In many ways, our ancestry and heritage influence who we are. Our ancestors’ values and choices affect who we are and what we value. The Prophet Joseph Smith’s family was no different. Both of Joseph’s grandfathers had experiences and beliefs that influenced the Smith family and prepared Joseph to be the Prophet of the Restoration.
Solomon Mack’s Tenacity
Joseph’s maternal grandfather, Solomon Mack, wrote this life sketch in 1811, when Joseph was a young boy. In the life sketch, Solomon relates his unfortunate childhood and the adventures and misfortunes he experienced as a settler, soldier, merchant, and farmer. Young Joseph likely read and heard stories about his grandfather’s life and had personal interactions with him.
One historian observed, “Solomon’s leading quality was not brilliance, but a dogged tenacity in the face of overwhelming odds,”a quality he shared with his prophet grandson. This tenacity is evident in one experience Solomon recorded: as a soldier he was tasked with transporting materials by oxcart with just one other companion. Along the way, a small party of men attacked them, and Solomon “saw no other way to save myself only to deceive them by stratagem.” Hoping to scare them away, he called loudly to his companion and pretended that reinforcements were close behind. He recalled, “I had no other weapon only a staff; but I ran towards them and the other man appearing in sight, gave them a terrible fright, and I saw them no more.”
Many years later, Solomon’s daughter Lucy Mack Smith recorded that Joseph followed a similar plan shortly after hiding the golden plates under the hearthstone of their home: “The hearth was scarcely laid down when a large company of men came rushing up to the house armed with guns. Joseph threw the door open and taking a hint from the stratagem of his Grandfather Mack he halooed as if he had a legion at hand giving the word of command with great importance and in a tone like stentor at the same time the males that belonged to the house from the Father down to little [Don Carlos] ran out with such vehemence upon the men that they fled and were pursued by our little spartan band away into the woods.”
Solomon Mack’s Conversion
Solomon concludes his narrative with his personal witness of and conversion to Jesus Christ. In 1810, when Solomon was 76 years old, he suffered from rheumatism and “at length began to consider my ways.”The words of Matthew 11:28 came to his mind, in which the Lord beckons, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” He asked his wife whether those words were in the Bible, and he was shocked to learn that they were, because he had avoided study of the Bible except “for the purpose of ridiculing religious institutions and characters.”
He recorded, “I began to search the bible, but often before this I had trials, but I would not hearken. I had practically said unto God, depart from me I desire not the knowledge of thy ways. I had all my days set at naught his councils and words, I often [slighted] till an advanced age, but now I experienced personal deliverance. . . .
“. . . I literally watered my pillow with tears that I prayed eagerly that God would have mercy on me, that he would relieve me and open the eyes of my understanding, and enable me to call on him as I ought. . . . I hope and trust I found mercy; I do believe that God did appear for me and took me out of the horrible pit and mirey clay, and set my feet on the rock of Christ Jesus.”
Solomon Mack passed away in August 1820, probably without the knowledge of the miraculous First Vision, which his grandson had received earlier that year. Although Solomon’s conversion to Jesus Christ came late in life, his experience likely influenced the Smith family’s view of religion.
Joseph Smith’s paternal grandfather, Asael Smith, also held beliefs that influenced Joseph’s life. Asael was a man of faith; nevertheless, he taught his family to search religion carefully: “As to religion, study the nature of religion, and see whether it consists in outward formalities, or in the hidden man of the heart.”
Asael also predicted that “God was going to raise up some branch of his family to be a great benefit to mankind.” George A. Smith recorded, “My grandfather Asael fully believed the Book of Mormon, which he read nearly through” before he died in 1830.
The Legacy of the Prophet’s Ancestors
Brigham Young taught: “The Lord had his eye upon [Joseph Smith], and upon his father, and upon his father’s father, and upon their progenitors. . . . He has watched that family and that blood as it has circulated from its fountain to the birth of that man.”
Both of Joseph Smith’s grandfathers had experiences that prepared the Smith family for the miraculous events Joseph Smith would take part in. Solomon Mack and Asael Smith also established a legacy of strong family bonds, the desire to work hard, and faith in God. This legacy helped Joseph Smith in his role as the Prophet of the Restoration.