Mary Elizabeth was Joseph Smith's 8th plural wife.
This is a video summary for Mary Elizabeth Rollins.
Mary was born on April 9, 1818 about twenty miles from Palmyra, New York. Mary had an older brother and a younger sister. Her father died in a shipwreck when she was two and a half years old. After his death they moved in with the Gilbert family in Ohio.
In 1830 the Rollins family began to hear rumors of the Book of Mormon. Mary was baptized in November of that year by Parley P. Pratt in a stream, near the Isaac Morley farm. She was twelve years old.
Isaac Morley obtained one of the first copies of the Book of Mormon and Mary asked to borrow it while he was at one of his meetings. He allowed her to borrow it and she read all of First Nephi that night and even memorized the first passage.
When she returned it to Isaac the next morning, summarizing the entire first book and reciting the first verse verbatim he said, “Child, take this book home and finish it. I can wait.”
In early February of 1831, Joseph came and visited the Gilbert home where the Rollins were staying. He was surprised to see a copy of the Book of Mormon which was still rare in Ohio. When he was told of Mary’s enthusiasm with the Book of Mormon, he asked to meet her.
Mary wrote: “I was sent for; when he saw me, he looked at me so earnestly, I felt almost afraid [and I thought, ‘He can read my every thought,’ and I thought how blue his eyes were.] after a moment, or too he came to put his hands on my head and gave me a blessing, (the first I ever received) and made me a present of the Book.”
When Mary was thirteen she had the gift of interpreting tongues. Mary was once called upon to interpret the glossolalia spoken of by the brethren. Her interpretation predicted that the Saints “would be drive” from Jackson County by mobs. Some of the Brethren protested her interpretation, but Joseph answered that she was correct. She later said that while the interpretation of tongues belonged to the priesthood, they had not asked for it, so it was put upon her shoulders.
When she was fourteen Mary worked for Peter Whitmer, a tailor, and gained a reputation as a seamstress. Lilburn Boggs had just been elected lieutenant governor and asked Peter to make a suit for his inauguration, so Mary went to Bogg’s house to stitch the collars and face of the coat. The Bogg’s family liked her so much that they tried to get her to leave the church, but she refused.
Interestingly, in 1837, after Boggs had become the governor, the state militia came to Far West, Missouri to drive out the Mormons. Boggs reportedly gave orders to spare only two families, The Clemensons and the Lighteners.
Saving the Scriptures
On July 20th, 1833 a mob attacked the office of the Evening and the Morning Star, which was then printing the Book of Commandments. Mary and her sister Caroline were hiding as the mob came out with pages of the book and talked of destroying them. So while the mob was busy “prying out the Gable end of the house” the girls each ran and gathered an armful of the sheets. Although the men saw them and shouted at them to stop, Mary and Caroline darted away and hid in the large cornfield. The girls were not detected and they brought the pages to the printer’s wife, who was overjoyed to have them.
Mary marries Adam Lightner
In August of 1835, when Mary was seventeen years old, she married a non mormon named Adam Lightner, who was twenty-five. The following year, Mary had her first child, Miles Henry. Her second child, Caroline, came in 1840.
By Mary’s own account, she had had dreams of becoming Joseph’s wife, before he even proposed to her. “I had been dreaming for a number of years I was his wife. I thought I was a great sinner. I prayed to God to take it from me.”
Joseph proposed to Mary in early February of 1842.
Teaching Mary about Polygamy
After Joseph taught Mary about polygamy, he told her that God had instructed him to marry her in 1834, but he had been in Kirtland and she in Missouri. In 1834 she was sixteen years old.
Mary recalls Joseph saying “the angel came to me three times between the year ‘34 and ‘42 and said I was to obey that principle or he would [destroy] me.”
“Joseph said I was his before I came here and he said all the Devils in hell should never get me from him.”
“I was created for him before the foundation of the Earth was laid.”
When Joseph told her these things, Mary recalls: “No human being can tell my feeling on this occasion. My faith in him, as a Prophet about failed me. I could not sleep, and scarcely eat.”
Seeing the Angel
After Joseph told Mary of the angel’s instruction that he marry her, Mary asked why the Lord did not reveal the same thing to her? Joseph then promised her that she would have a witness.
“One night I retired to bed, but not to sleep, for my mind was troubled so sleep fled from me. My Aunt Gilbert was sleeping with me at the time when a great light appeared in the room. Thinking the kindling wood was on fire, that was spread on the hearth, I rose up in bed to look. When lo, a personage stood in front of the bed looking at me. Its clothes were whiter than anything I had ever seen. I could look at its person, but when I saw its face so bright and more beautiful than any earthly being could be, and those eyes piercing me through and through, I could not endure it. It seemed as if I must die with fear. I fell back in bed and covered up my head so as not to see it. I pushed Aunt very hard to have her look up and see it too. But I could not wake her and I could not speak. I thought if she were awake, I would not feel so afraid. As it is, I can never forget that face. It seems to be ever before me.”
In another place she describes the story in other details: “I made it a subject of prayer and I worried about it because I did not dare to speak to a living being except Brigham Young. I went out and got between three haystacks where no one could see me. As I knelt down I thought, why not pray as Moses did? He prayed with his hands raised. When his hands were raised, Israel was victorious, but when they were not raised, the Philistines were victorious. I lifted my hands.... I knelt down and if ever a poor mortal prayed, I did. A few nights after that an angel of the Lord came to me and if ever a thrill went through a mortal, it went through me. I gazed upon the clothes and figure but the eyes were like lightning. They pierced me from the crown of my head to the soles of my feet. I was frightened almost to death for a moment. I tried to waken my aunt, but I could not. The angel leaned over me and the light was very great, although it was night. When my aunt woke up she said she had seen a figure in white robes pass from our bed to my mother’s bed and pass out of the window.
Joseph came up the next Sabbath. He said, “Have you had a witness yet?” “No.” “Well,” said he, “the angel expressly told me you should have.” Said I, “I have not had a witness, but I have seen something I have never seen before. I saw an angel and I was frightened almost to death. I did not speak.” He studied a while and put his elbows on his knees and his face in his hands. He looked up and said, “How could you have been such a coward?” Said I, “I was weak.” “Did you think to say, ‘Father, help me?’” “No.” “Well, if you had just said that, your mouth would have been opened for that was an angel of the living God. He came to you with more knowledge, intelligence, and light than I have ever dared to reveal.” I said, “If that was an angel of light, why did he not speak to me?” “You covered your face and for this reason the angel was insulted.” Said I, “Will it ever come again?” He thought a moment and then said, “No, not the same one, but if you are faithful you shall see greater things than that.”
Marrying Joseph Smith
In February 1842, Joseph and Mary Elizabeth Lighter went into the upper room of Smith’s Red Brick store, the Masonic Hall, and the marriage was performed “for time, and all eternity.” Mary was twenty-three years old and pregnant with her third child by Adam Lightner during the ceremony. Adam was out of town, “far away” at the time, so he probably did not know about the sealing.
Later, Mary gave the reason she stayed with Mr. Lightner: “I did just as Joseph told me to do.”
Joseph Smith told Mary, “I know that I shall be saved in the Kingdom of God. I have the oath of God upon it and God cannot lie. All that he gives me I shall take with me for I have that authority and that power conferred upon me.”
In marrying him, Mary was guaranteed a place in the Celestial Kingdom.
At one point Adam got a job cutting cordwood fifteen miles up the river from Nauvoo in a town called Pontoosuc. When Joseph learned that Mary would be moving he was distraught.
With tears streaming down his cheeks “he prophesied that if we attempt to leave the Church, we would have plenty of sorrow; for we would make property on the right hand, and lose it on the left, we would have sickness, on sickness, and lose our children and that I would have to work harder than I ever dreamed of and at last when you are worn out, and almost ready to die you will get back to the Church.”
Before she left Nauvoo, Joseph baptized the Rollins and Lighter families again and “tried hard to get Mr. Lightner to go into the water,” but Adam said he did not feel worthy.
After their move from Nauvoo, one of Mary’s children died and she had a funeral where only one other person beside herself and the two men that dug the grave. After the birth of her fourth child, her house was struck by lighting that caused everyone to pass out. The family suffered fevers and chills. In 1844, Joseph was killed at the Carthage Jail. Mary had a dream that an angel came and told her to move back to Nauvoo, which she did.
After returning to Nauvoo, she received her endowment and joined the elite group of the Holy Order. In the fall of 1844, Brigham Young proposed to her. She was sealed to him for “time.”
When the Church left Nauvoo, Mary and Adam stayed behind. Brigham had asked Mary if she wanted to leave with the Saints to which she had answered yes. A few days later, however, Brigham left without her.
Mary wrote: “I felt stunned, the thought came to me that polygamy was of the Devil - and Brigham knew it, or he would have cut off his right hand before he would have left me. …I wept myself sick, and felt to give up, and go among the Gentiles, in fact I felt as though I was like one in any open boat at sea, without compass or rudder.”
Later, Brigham did send word to Mary asking her to come join the Saints, but the Lightners were in poverty and had no means of getting to Utah.
Financial Aid from Church Leaders
Mary continued to have children with Adam, and their family continued to struggle financially and she lost a few of her children.
Throughout the end of her life she asked for financial assistance from the church leaders. She asked John Taylor in 1881, and he gave her just over $16 a month. She also asked President Wilford Woodruff who helped her pay off some debts and gave her just over $16 a month. In 1903, she even asked Joseph F. Smith for financial help, because they had stopped sending her that money. Interestingly, Mary pointed out how much she was having to give back in tithing from the money they gave her. Joseph F. Smith allowed for the usual allowance to continue.
Mary later wrote: “I do not feel recognized by the Smith family.” She even spoke of Joseph F. Smith and how she could “tell him some things about his father that he does not know about the early days of the Church.. But have never had the opportunity… I feel as if I have been Spiritually neglected.”
Seeing Joseph Smith Again
Heber C. Kimball once told Mary that she would see Joseph before she died.
Sometime later, after Heber had died, Mary had a spiritual experience that she felt fulfilled this prophecy.
“Suddenly I saw just outside the door three men. They stood about two feet from the ground. These men were the Prophet Joseph Smith, his brother Hyrum and Heber C. Kimball. Joseph stood in the middle with an arm around each of their shoulders. They were bowing and smiling at me… Now I was looking into those clear blue penetrating eyes as I had donw years ago when he had answered my many questions about the Gospel… I looked around, pinched my arm to see if I was dreaming. As they were still smiling and bowing.. Thought I would shake hands with them. They saw my confusion and understood it and they laughed, and I thought Brother Kimball would kill himself laughing. I had no fear … trembling with joy, I arose, took a step forward and extended my hand. They began fading away as the going down of the sun.”
The End of Mary's Life
In total, Mary buried six of her ten children. Adam passed away in 1885. Mary outlived the first five presidents of the Latter-day Saint church, the first two of whom had been husbands. She was the last of Joseph Smith’s wives to die, and one of only four who would live into the twentieth century.
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