In September 2005, President Gordon B. Hinckley visited the Brigham Young University campus to dedicate the new Joseph F. Smith building, which houses the College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences. During his talk prior to the dedicatory prayer, President Hinckley retold a story that has been shared numerous times in talks, articles, and biographies of Joseph F. Smith; and has come to be known as Joseph F. Smith’s “Dream of Manhood.”[i] According to Joseph F. Smith, he had a dream while on his first mission to the Hawaiian Islands, a dream that he later affirmed “made me what I am….[and] helped me out in every trial and through every difficulty.”[ii]
As Joseph F. Smith recalled, his mission was not going well. “I was almost naked and entirely friendless…. I felt as if I was so debased in my condition of poverty, lack of intelligence and knowledge, just a boy, that I hardly dared look a white man in the face.” In these conditions, he was blessed with a glorious dream that makes little sense, but apparently offered him a great deal of comfort.
I dreamed that I was on a journey, and I was impressed that I ought to hurry—hurry with all my might, for fear I might be too late. I rushed on my way as fast as I possibly could, and I was only conscious of having just a little bundle, a handkerchief with a small bundle wrapped in it. I did not realize just what it was, when I was hurrying as fast as I could; but finally I came to a wonderful mansion, if it could be called a mansion. It seemed too large, too great to have been made by hand, but I thought I knew that was my destination. As I passed towards it, as fast as I could, I saw a notice, “Bath.” I turned aside quickly and went into the bath and washed myself clean. I opened up this little bundle that I had, and there was a pair of white, clean garments, a thing I had not seen for a long time, because the people I was with did not think very much of making things exceedingly clean. But my garments were clean, and I put them on. Then I rushed to what appeared to be a great opening, or door. I knocked and the door opened, and the man who stood there was the Prophet Joseph Smith. He looked at me a little reprovingly, and the first word he said: “Joseph, you are late.” Yet I took confidence and said:
“Yes, but I am clean—I am clean!”
He clasped my hand and drew me in, then closed the great door. I felt his hand just as tangible as I ever felt the hand of man. I knew him, and when I entered I saw my father, [Hyrum Smith,] and Brigham [Young], and Heber [C. Kimball], and Willard [Richards], and other good men that I had known, standing in a row. I looked as if it were across this valley, and it seemed to be filled with a vast multitude of people, but on the stage were all the people that I had known. My mother was there, and she sat with a child in her lap; and I could name over as many as I remember of their names, who sat there, who seemed to be among the chosen, among the exalted.
The Prophet said to me, “Joseph,” then pointing to my mother, he said: “Bring me that child.”
I went to my mother and picked up the child, and thought it was a fine baby boy. I carried it to the Prophet, and as I handed it to him I purposely thrust my hands up against his breast. I felt the warmth….I pressed my hand up against the Prophet, and I saw a smile cross his countenance. I handed him the child and stepped back. President Young stepped around two steps, my father one step, and they formed a triangle. Then Joseph blessed that baby, and when he finished blessing it they stepped back in line; that is, Brigham and father stepped back in line. Joseph handed me the baby, wanted me to come and take the baby again; and this time I was determined to test whether this was a dream or a reality. I wanted to know what it meant. So I purposely thrust myself up against the Prophet. I felt the warmth of his stomach. He smiled at me, as if he comprehended my purpose. He delivered the child to me and I returned it to my mother, [and] laid it on her lap.[iii]
There the retelling ended—and there the questions begin. Joseph F. Smith recounted the dream in April 1918, over six decades after he left his first Hawaiian mission (1854-1857). Yet the degree of detail with which he tells the story begs explanation—surely he could not have remembered all those details, names, and faces, for more than sixty years without writing down the dream or sharing it with a confidant.
The first place I looked for a record of the dream was Joseph F. Smith’s Sandwich Islands mission journals, of which six volumes have been well preserved—sadly, two volumes were destroyed in a tragic 1856 fire, along with most of Joseph F. Smith’s worldly possessions, in storage at the mission headquarters on the island of Lanai.[iv] A thorough search of the surviving twenty-two months of journals yielded no account of the Dream of Manhood; Joseph F. Smith did record another dream that proved a comfort to him, however. After an especially difficult month in June 1856—losing most of his possessions in the fire, struggling to stomach the squalor in which he lived, and laboring to save a people he saw as backward and unwilling to embrace the truth—Joseph F. vented his frustrations in his journal on 4 July 1856:
I have seen many things, since I have been on the Islands and some of them are apalling I have seen whol famelies who ware one sallid [solid] mass of scabes, (having the itch) and everry stich, or rag they had about them or on their premisis, ware alive with the itch. I have slept in these circomstances, I have shaken handes with those whos body and handes ware a scab! I have eaten food mixed up like unto batter with such handes, and I never was so hearty, but I cannot say strong, in my life, my body has been clere of diseas of all kindes, until now, and now I perceive that I have a slight tou[c]h of the cantagion, but I must thank [God] for his goodness; and hope for the best. I have slept in places where should my hog sleep my stumache would forbid me eating of it….I have slept with my bretheren on the same mat with those who ware rotten!–and stunk with diseas,! and I have seen more than this, the fact of it is, this nation is roten, and stink[s], because of, and with their own wickedness, and but fiew are exceptionable.[v]
That night, Joseph F. had a dream that certainly proved a comfort during this time of sore trial—but it was nothing like the Dream of Manhood. He dreamt that he was at home, in the Salt Lake Valley, and that everyone he knew was assembled together for a meeting in some kind of bowery. After the meeting was dismissed, He thought he saw Brigham Young pass him by several times,
but he seemed to be in such a hurry that he could not stop but he looked at me as if to say I want to speak to you, and went on….I then went out and meet bro. Brigham in the street, just in frunt of the old Tithing store, I went up and shook handes with him, and he looked as naturel as ever. he was clothed with white pantes, and coat (i did not notice the vest) and I said “you see I have got back a gain,” “Yess, so I see,” said he “but you are going back a gain in the morning, are you not?” I said yess if you want me to. at this his wagon drove up and he went off. I was going to shake handes again, but he shook his head and pointed to the asembley, and went off. I could not think what this ment, and I asked a person who was standing by, and he told me to go to the meeting. I did go, and then shook handes with my folks and returned to the Islands. I could not think why everybody used me so cool, but I thought, “I have not finished my mission yet”[vi]
So, at a very severe time of trial—in the language he used in introducing the Dream of Manhood, a time where he “felt…debased” in his “condition of poverty” and to no small degree “oppressed” by his circumstances—Joseph F. Smith was given a dream that convinced him to endure his challenging situation. And yet, this is certainly not the Dream of Manhood he described almost sixty-two years later. The only similarity is that Brigham Young was there (along with others Joseph F. knew), and that he was dressed in white.
It seemed apparent to me that, if Joseph F. Smith would record this dream of Brigham in such detail while in Hawaii, surely he would have done the same for the Dream of Manhood. Joseph F. certainly believed in the power of dreams and visions—his own as well as those of his proselytes in the Islands. Joseph F. taught one William Burke, who dreamt of his own baptism at the hands of Joseph F. and shared the dream with the young missionary—Burke was baptized ten days later, along with his wife and daughter.[vii] And later in life, as President of the Church, Joseph F. Smith recounted the now-canonized “Vision of the Redemption of the Dead,” which came shortly after the death of his son, then-apostle Hyrum M. Smith, and shortly before Joseph F.’s own death.[viii]
Considering Joseph F.’s daily persistence in writing his journal in Hawaii (he missed only a few entries in 22 months), added to his lifelong reverence for dreams—as well as his apparent emphasis on recording dreams—the only plausible explanation for a missing journal account of the Dream of Manhood seemed to me to be that, had he kept one, the account had been destroyed in the June 1856 fire.
Did Nate ever find evidence of the Dream of Manhood, perhaps in another source? Or did Joseph F. Smith’s memory fail him? What other tricks of memory are evidenced in Joseph F. Smith’s life? Tune in next Thursday for Part Two in this fascinating mystery!
[i] President Hinckley recounted the story several other times also; for example, in the April 1996 and April 1997 General Conferences (talks titled “Be Ye Clean” and “I Am Clean,” respectively); Boyd K. Packer told the story in April 1997 General Conference (“Washed Clean”). For biographies that include the story, see Joseph Fielding Smith, Life of Joseph F. Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1938), 445-47 (the original 1918 version); Blaine Yorgason, From Orphaned Boy to Prophet of God: The Story of Joseph F. Smith (Ogden, UT: The Living Scriptures, 2001), 7-12; Francis M. Gibbons, Joseph F. Smith: Patriarch and Preacher, Prophet of God (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1984), 40-1; and Richard N. Holtzapfel and R.Q. Shupe, Joseph F. Smith: Portrait of a Prophet (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 2000), 24-5.
[ii] Joseph Fielding Smith, Life of Joseph F. Smith, 446.
[iii] Ibid., 445-6.
[iv] Scanned images of the surviving journals are accessible on Selected Collections from the Archives of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, vol. 1, part 26 [DVD-ROM] (Salt Lake City: Intellectual Reserve, 2002). I used this resource for all journal entries quoted in this post. The original journals are housed in the Joseph F. Smith Papers at the Church History Library in Salt Lake City.
Edward Partridge informed Joseph F. of the fire in a letter that Joseph F. transcribed into his journal, along with a list of all the items lost in the fire; see Joseph F. Smith, Journal, 26 June 1856.
[v] Joseph F. Smith, Journal, 4 July 1856.
[vi] Ibid., 5 July 1856.
[vii] Ibid., entries dated 6 June 1856 and 16 June 1856.
[viii] For more on this vision, see Robert L. Millet, “The Vision of the Redemption of the Dead,” in Hearken, O Ye People: Discourses on the Doctrine and Covenants (Sperry Symposium, 1984) (Sandy, UT: Randall Book Co., 1984), 252-65. Several speeches also dealt with the vision at the 2012 Church History Symposium on Joseph F. Smith.