Emma’s Susquehanna: Growing Up in the Isaac and Elizabeth Hale Home

Mark L. Staker and Curtis Ashton
1 March 2019

In autumn 1828, Lucy Mack Smith visited her son Joseph’s 13½-acre farm in Harmony, Pennsylvania. While there she met Isaac and Elizabeth Hale, the parents of Joseph’s wife, Emma. Lucy described the Hale family’s home as a “mansion” with “every convenient appendage necessary.”1 The Hale family’s home at the Priesthood Restoration Site shows the prosperous circumstances in which Emma Hale lived before she married Joseph Smith. Leaving her childhood home behind was an early example of Emma’s faith as she supported her husband in his prophetic calling.

Isaac and Elizabeth Hale’s First Home

The large two-story house that Lucy visited in 1828 was actually the Hale family’s second home. Thirty years earlier, Isaac Hale had settled 150 acres on the Susquehanna River that included a small log home. Isaac moved with his new bride, Elizabeth Lewis, into the log home in the fall of 1790. For the next 20 years, as Isaac cleared land, planted crops, and added fences and outbuildings to his farm, the log home served their growing family. Elizabeth delivered eight of the nine Hale children while the couple lived in the log home.2 Finally in about 1809, Isaac and his sons and neighbors slid the log home off of its foundation and then expanded the cellar into a basement. They built their two-story frame home on the same spot where the family had lived for nearly 20 years.

Emma as a Child

Elizabeth Hale delivered her seventh child on July 10, 1804, at the Hales’ log home. The baby came less than a week after the Hales attended the biggest social event of the year, the local Independence Day “frolic.”3 The family named her Emma—not a family name like those of her sisters but popular in the English-speaking world at that time. Isaac Hale’s friend Reverend Daniel Buck baptized the infant Emma into the Congregational Church shortly after her birth.4

As she grew, Emma’s parents taught her how to maintain a home and garden. Formal education was also part of Emma’s experience growing up. The area’s first school opened in a small log building four miles away when Emma was nine years old. Later Emma may have briefly left home and attended another school nearby.5 Emma’s education later showed itself in her refined handwriting as a scribe for Joseph.


Religion was part of Emma’s life from a young age. When Emma was a child, her uncle Nathaniel Lewis became a Methodist leader, and she likely attended his sermons.6 At age seven, she became a member of the Methodist Episcopal class along with her brother David. These classes gave Emma the opportunity to study the Bible and sing hymns outside of the Sunday meetings.

Like the part of upstate New York where Joseph Smith grew up, Pennsylvania was full of spiritual fervor. When Methodist circuit rider George Peck visited the Susquehanna District, he found in Emma’s community “such weeping and shouting [as] I have seldom heard or witnessed.”7 A neighbor of the Hale family claimed that when Emma was young she “often got the power,” as did others in the area who experienced intense, sincere religious feeling.8

Isaac Hale’s rifle hangs in the dining room of the Hale home. Isaac became converted to his family’s faith as he overheard Emma’s prayers on his behalf while he hunted in the woods.

In 1812, circuit rider Elisha Bibbins visited the area and encouraged people to go into the woods and pray for a spiritual experience. Emma was apparently among those who took this advice. Some of her family thought that her own father, an avid hunter, finally became converted to his family’s faith as he overheard her prayers on his behalf while hunting in the woods.9


Emma’s family was socially well connected with other families in the area. All of her siblings married spouses from the area, and some of Emma’s friends married prominent men in the valley.10 Emma’s parents had reason to expect that their beautiful 21-year-old daughter would marry someone from their neighborhood equal to her in education and social standing. They were not expecting a suitor from outside the valley.

Joseph Smith was 19 years old when he first met Emma Hale in 1825. He and his father had come to work for Josiah Stowell, who was convinced there was an abandoned silver mine near the Hale property. Isaac Hale disapproved of the project, but he allowed the work group to lodge in the family’s old log home.11 After just three weeks the digging ended, and the Smiths returned to their home in Manchester, New York. Young Joseph Smith returned to the Susquehanna area and worked for several months, first for Josiah Stowell and later for Joseph Knight.12

Perhaps self-conscious about his relative lack of education, Joseph attended school while working for the Stowell family.13 He also spent time courting Emma. Between visits to the parlor of her father’s house, Joseph may have found occasion to write her letters and to see her at cornhusking bees or other social gatherings.

The parlor was used for social gatherings such as quilting bees and tea parties. Joseph would have courted Emma in this part of her father’s house

Eventually Joseph asked Isaac Hale for his daughter’s hand in marriage. Isaac refused and stated his reasons, including that Joseph was “a stranger” and that Isaac could not approve of Joseph’s profession. He also had concerns about Joseph’s sense of religious mission.14 Joseph went back to work for Josiah Stowell, and Isaac didn’t see him again until the following summer—after Joseph and Emma had married on their own.


On a cold, clear morning in January 1827, Emma made a trip to visit her married sister Elizabeth near Colesville. At some point, she continued along the road to the Stowell farm. “I had no intention of marrying when I left home,” she later told her son, “but during my visit at Mr. Stowell’s, your father visited me there.”15 Joseph asked Emma to marry him, and Josiah Stowell spoke in favor of the wedding. Though conscious that her father did not approve, Emma made her own decision. “Preferring to marry him to any other man I knew,” she recalled, “I consented.”16

Joseph may have planned to marry Emma at her father’s house in Harmony, as was customary in his day. But, Joseph recalled, “So much was my wife’s father excited, that he was greatly opposed to our being married, in so much that he would not suffer us to be married at his house, I was therefore under the necessity of taking her elsewhere.”17 Squire Zachariah Tarble lived not far from the Stowell farm in South Bainbridge, New York. He performed the wedding at his home on January 18, 1827.18 Josiah Stowell was likely present as a witness. Instead of traveling the 30 miles back to Harmony after the wedding, Emma accompanied Joseph to his parents’ home in Manchester, more than 100 miles away.

Back to Harmony

Emma Hale Smith greeted her parents and family again in December 1827. Her family was glad to see her. By then, her father had reconciled with her new husband, and Isaac Hale had offered the Smiths a place in the valley. Joseph and Emma lived for about two months in Emma’s childhood home before moving to a house nearby.

Emma had come back to the place where she was born and grew up, but her return to the Susquehanna Valley didn’t lead to the quiet life her father may have wished for her. In less than three years, Emma supported the translation and publication of the Book of Mormon, the organization of the Church of Christ, and the establishment of a branch in Colesville near her sister’s home. Emma was baptized and chose to gather with the Saints in Ohio. After moving, she never returned to the Susquehanna, and her parents seem to have cut off contact with her until after her father’s death in 1839.19

The reconstructed Hale home includes a replica of the box in which Joseph hid the golden plates.

The world Emma knew in the Susquehanna Valley changed significantly after she left. Her siblings moved away. As the country’s transportation system changed, railroad tracks were laid across her father’s property. Today the reconstructed Hale home helps us remember the way things were when Emma lived in the area—and honor the early sacrifices she made to support the Restoration of the gospel.