Dec 23: Joseph’s Birthday, Emma’s Anniversary

Today is Joseph’s 204th birthday.  (He was born in 1805 for those of you curious about the math.)  Since Dec 22 is the first day of winter, and the day with the shortest amount of sunlight, I’ve heard people say that Joseph’s birth was symbolic.  Joseph was bringing light into the world after a period of darkness.  That’s interesting.

As most of you know, Joseph died June 27, 1844 in a hail of gunfire at the Carthage jail, leaving behind a pregnant wife and 3 young boys: Joseph SMITH III (age 11 1/2),  Frederick Granger Williams SMITH (age 8), Alexander Hale SMITH (age 6).  Emma gave birth to David Hyrum SMITH on Nov 18, 1844, 5 months after Joseph’s death .  (Emma gave birth to 10 children in all, though most of them died at or near birth.  Don Carlos SMITH lived just 15 months from 13 Jun 1840 – 15 Sep 1841.)

Three years after Joseph’s death, Emma married a man by the name of Lewis Bidamon.  Most astonishing to me is the day she picked for her wedding: Joseph’s birthday, 23 Dec 1847.I don’t understand that.  They married in a Methodist church.  Lewis doesn’t seem to have been a man of great character.  He was a bit of a drunk, and fathered a child with another woman while married to Emma.  (I talked briefly about this when I reviewed the film Emma Smith: My Story.)  In a true act of Christlike love, Emma hired the woman, and adopted the child after the woman died.

I know a woman who married a  new spouse 2 days prior to her deceased husband’s birthday (her previous husband had been dead just over a year.).  I always thought the timing was strange for several reasons, and her anniversary is a bitter-sweet time for her, filled with conflicting emotions.  I don’t understand why a grieving widow would pick such odd timing to marry another.

In Emma’s case, her new anniversary is just prior to Christmas.  I’ve done some geneaology, and it seems like Christmas was a relatively frequent day to marry in the 1800’s.  However, it still strikes me as odd timing to marry during the Christmas season.  Sure, Christmas wasn’t as commercial back then, and some people today marry during Christmas break in between semesters, but I don’t think that Emma had semester finals to plan around.

When a spouse dies, anniversaries and birthdays are dates I would want to avoid when choosing to marry again.  I don’t understand Emma or this other woman’s decision to marry so close (or directly on) the previous spouse’s birthday.  Can anybody explain this to me?

22 comments on “Dec 23: Joseph’s Birthday, Emma’s Anniversary

  1. Maybe it had nothing to do with anything…pure coincidence. I’m always glad, however, to read something nice about Emma. I think she is possibly the most unfairly maligned individual in all of LDS history.

  2. Surely Emma didn’t forget Joseph’s birthday. I have a hard time believing she was indifferent to it.

    I really think Emma is an amazing woman who went through unbelievable trials. I really admire her.

  3. Perhaps picking Joseph’s birthday was a way of really signaling closure to her old life — trying to put away the memories once and for all, even if it wasn’t going to work.

    But the older I get, the more I realize I do NOT understand the mind of my own wife, so why should I understand Emma?

  4. FireTag, it is very hard to understand what women will do, and I think they often don’t understand either. I do wonder if Emma picked the day to “get back” at Joseph for his polygamy.

  5. What if the decision wasn’t even her’s at all… Given the times and the way the relationships existed between men and women, I think it entirely possible that Mr. Bidamon may have made the decision on the date. It could have been his was of sticking it to the previous husband, or just an unfortunate coincidence.

  6. I think Emma loved Joseph so much that his death really took its toll on her. I think she literally felt as though she lost a part of herself and that is one of the reasons she married the man she did three years later. I think when people suffer such deep loss and pain, many things are too painful to think about and it is painful to care about things that mattered to them so much before.

    I don’t think Emma was trying to get back at Joseph, but I am sure she felt anger because of all she had to go through after his death. It is normal to feel anger for him leaving her behind with children and a baby on the way. I really think she just shut down in many ways and sort of gave up on ever having anything better. Joseph was the love of her life and he was gone, there would never be another to replace him, so she took what she could and settled. The pain of Joseph’s marriages to other women may have made her feel unimportant as well, and this may have been another reason she settled marrying someone like Bidamon. I think Joseph made her feel special and loved her deeply, but as he married other women, I can’t imagine she didn’t feel as though she lost the special place in his heart and I can’t think of any woman that wouldn’t feel this way if this happened to them.

    I don’t know why Emma married on Joseph’s birthday, but I do know that she went through more than any woman should ever have to go through and it would have much more fair for her to be able to have passed on with Joseph (rather than Hyrum)and be able to be spared the many years of heartache she had to endure alone. I’m going to ask God about this one for sure when I see Him (among all the other many questions I have for Him!). All I know is I can’t wait to see Emma and give her a big hug…..she definitely deserves it.

  7. Urban Koda, you could be right. However, Emma doesn’t strike me as a docile woman. She was really agitated about polygamy, and let Joseph know on more than one occasion. I think she could take care of herself, and would take umbrage if Lewis Bidamon tried to use unrighteous dominion in setting a marriage date.

    Jen, I do recall a conversation Emma had with a church member after Joseph’s death. I don’t know if you remember my previous posts on Emma, but she often denied that Joseph practiced polygamy. One person (William Clayton?) came to her and insisted he knew otherwise. In exasperation, she exclaimed something to the effect of “if that’s true, then Joseph was worthy of the death he died.” (I posted the exact comment in a previous post.) I know she chafed at these polygamy rumors, and did her best to deny it, though it is evident to me she was aware of it, and even approved and quickly disapproved of one such marriage.

    As I mentioned above, I know a woman who married another within 2 days of her previous husband’s birthday. His birthday reminds her of his death, which is a sorrowful time for her. Perhaps she and Emma married as an attempt to put something positive on a date that brings sorrow. Even still, it will never overcome the death of a beloved husband.

  8. Jen:

    Well, those of us in the CofChrist are sure glad she stayed around to raise Joseph III and keep our accepted “prophetic lineage” going. :.

  9. MH-

    I know that I would have probably dealt with the whole polygamy issue with Joseph in a very similar way as Emma. Denial is one way to suppress the pain or just being angry and not discussing it at all. Just feeling it and recognizing it for what it was had to be overwhelmingly painful and too much to bear at any given moment.

    I think she may have married Bidamon because she believed Joseph was a prophet and the best of all the best out there. If he hurt her in such a way, how could it get any worse with anyone else? She definitely married down and I think it had to do with the fact that she didn’t want to have any expectations. She may have just assumed she would get hurt and that was part of the deal…..better than hoping for more and getting so much less again.


    Good point! Although, I really wish the Lord would have been more merciful to her and let her go. I feel for her greatly and all the suffering she had to go through.

  10. Jen:

    Sorry, He was being merciful instead to the hundreds of thousands of people like me who are her spiritual offspring even if we don’t seal such relationships in a temple.

  11. Fire Tag-

    I don’t understand what spiritual offspring means?

  12. FireTag-

    I hope you understand where my comment was coming from as one who is trying to put herself in Emma’s shoes. I don’t believe Emma was ever really that happy after Joseph died and that is why I said what I said. When I went to the CoC temple I saw a picture of here there and it wasn’t what I would have expected. Of course, pictures back then didn’t really focus on getting your good side. 🙂 She seemed sad and lifeless in the photo.

    Anyway, how has that affected you having the “prophetic lineage” line broken?

  13. Jen:

    I can no more imagine the RLDS/Community of Christ tradition coming into being and continuing than I can imagine the Utah branch of the Restoration becoming what it has without Brigham Young. Every CofChrist prophet up until the 1990’s was a son, grandson, or great-grandson of Joseph and Emma. The character she imparted in her son informs everything he and his descendents built and therefore everything we are. In that sense we are her spiritual offspring.

  14. FireTag-

    Thanks for helping me understand better what you meant by spiritual offspring. I don’t like to think of myself as spiritual offspring of Brigham Young because I really have a hard time liking him from everything I have read about him. I prefer thinking of myself as being the spiritual offspring of God, that is why I had some confusion in understanding what you meant at first.

  15. You can pick your nose, but you can’t pick your ancestors (physical or spiritual….) 😉

    I know Brigham Young gets a bad rap on the Bloggernacle (even from me), but all these bad raps against Brigham almost make me want to put out something good about him. Jen, I don’t know if you read my posts on Consecration, but I think Brigham Young really cared for the poor, and wanted no poor. You might want to check out the first 2 posts that come up on this link. http://www.mormonheretic.org/?s=consecration

  16. Who was it that BY demeaned in public, it was a man who had left the church and then returned. I can’t remember the specifics, but BY said something to the effect of “what women would want this man?” I read it on the bloggernacle and I don’t have the source, do you? Anyway, after being turned off by him with other things he has said, that sealed the deal for me. What a rude man to demean someone like that publicly, especially one trying to return to the church. I struggle to get over that.

  17. Just so you know, I would like to be able to feel differently about BY, I am just not sure how to. I grew up with rudeness and it gives me a very bad taste in my mouth when I hear or read about a person demeaning people in front of others. I don’t think there is ever an excuse for it. Sure he was a prophet, but everyone makes mistakes and I would have liked to have heard a follow up apology or something to show that he was human and recognized that he had made a mistake.

  18. Jen, I’m not sure what incident you are referring to in comment 16. I have taken great issue with Brigham in regards to the priesthood ban, as well as his position on slavery. I have voiced my share of criticisms of him, and I reject the racist things he said.

    I don’t know if you read my post A Case For Slavery. Indians would often trade captured women and children from other tribes, and sell them to the Mexicans. After the Mexican War which ceded much of the Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado to the US, The Indians tried to sell Indian slaves to the Mormons. In one particular case, the Indians dashed the brains of a slave on the ground and said “If you had a heart, you would have saved the life of this child.”

    Brigham Young directed members of the church from this point forward to buy Indian slaves (and make them a “white and delightsome people”), and that is another reason Utah made slavery legal prior to the Civil War. While I’m still not comfortable with Brigham’s position on slavery, hearing this story made me more sympathetic to Brigham’s position.

    Fast Offerings (check this link)were implemented during the droughts of the 1850’s, and historians say that nobody died during these especially harsh winters. Much of the credit goes to Brigham Young’s spartan leadership. He pretty much forced people to share, and it kept people alive. So, while I understand your position that Brigham could be rude, yet his toughness literally saved lives of early pioneers. We don’t have to endure Willey and Martin handcart disasters, and it took a strong (perhaps rude) leader to help people survive in this rough environment. I understand people’s problems with Brigham Young, but I don’t think they look at the whole picture with some of their criticisms. He was a rough man in a much rougher environment that we live in today. A more refined leader probably would not have helped people survive in the rough Utah environment of the 1850’s. He innovated many amazing feats, and started the Perpetual Emigration Fund to help poor people emigrate from Europe to Utah. He honestly cared deeply for the poor, and made many policies to reduce poverty and starvation.

  19. From Emma’s point of view, she may have married up on Dec 23. Bidamon cheated less and introduced more stability.

  20. MH-

    Thank you for sharing all these things you did about BY. This is what I need to hear and understand about him so I can work through all the negative feelings and thoughts circulating in my mind about him. I try to be very open minded and give people the benefit of the doubt and I need to do this with BY. For some reason, it has been really hard for me when it comes to him.

    I don’t like to write things without a reference, so I was apprehensive to write that I had heard him say something to someone that was rude. I honestly thought you would know what I was talking about because you know so much about BY. I would like to find out the source of what I heard and make sure it is based on truth. I am positive I read it on MM, so I’ll have to do some research.

    Thanks for the perspective. I think you are right about needing a leader like BY in those times. It makes sense that it would take a strong personality to match the challenging times. I also think that any leader is always going to be criticized for the things they do or don’t do by some people and I need to remember to be glad it wasn’t me who had to deal with it all. 🙂

  21. Perhaps it was simply the day when the circuit minister happened to be traveling through town, I have no evidence, just one possibility among others.

    And a note on the original post, Emma did not adopt the child after the mother died. The mother, Nancy Abercrombie, outlived Emma by many years. In her final few weeks, Emma requested upon her passing that Lewis marry Nancy to provide the child, Charlie, with a legitimate family. Lewis did so roughly six months after Emma’s death.

  22. Thanks Kevin, I must have “misremembered” (using Roger Clemens terminology) the end of the “Emma Smith: My Story movie.”

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