Abraham O. Smoot

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Abraham O. Smoot
Abraham Owen Smoot.jpg
Photo of A. O. Smoot by C. R. Savage.
Abraham Owen Smoot

(1815-02-17)February 17, 1815
DiedMarch 6, 1895(1895-03-06) (aged 80)
MonumentsSmoot Administration Building, Brigham Young University
TitleMayor of Salt Lake City, Utah; Mayor of Provo, Utah
Term1857-1866; 1868-1881
PredecessorJedediah M. Grant
SuccessorDaniel H. Wells
Spouse(s)Margaret Thompson McMeans
Sarah Gibbens
Emily Hill
Diana Caroline Tanner Eldredge
Anne Kirstine Mauritzen
Hannah Caroline Rogers

Abraham Owen Smoot (February 17, 1815 – March 6, 1895) was an American pioneer, businessman, religious leader, and politician. He spent his early life as a missionary in Kentucky, Tennessee, South Carolina, and England. Like other early leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), Smoot practiced plural marriage, eventually marrying six women and having 27 children. After migrating west, he was elected as the second mayor of Salt Lake City, Utah (1857 to 1866). He was then assigned by LDS Church president Brigham Young to move to Provo, Utah, where he served as stake president and mayor from 1868 to 1881. Smoot was the first president of the board of trustees of Brigham Young Academy (BYA) - which later developed into Brigham Young University (BYU) - and an early financial supporter of the institution. The Smoot Administration Building at BYU is named after him.

Early life[edit]

Abraham Owen Smoot was born on February 17, 1815, in Owenton, Kentucky, the son of George W. Smoot and Nancy Ann (née Rowlett) Smoot.[1] He was of Scottish, Irish, and English descent. He had two brothers (William and Reed) and five sisters (Nancy, Martisia, Jemima, Sophia, and Cinderella).[2] His mother's uncle, Colonel Abraham Owen, served William Henry Harrison at the Battle of Tippecanoe. He was also related to General Stonewall Jackson.[3]:8 His family moved twice in his childhood, first to southwestern Kentucky and then to the banks of the Blood River in Tennessee. As a young boy, he worked as a farmer and was not educated.[2] He also had a health issue – which he called "a lung disease"[3]:9 – as a child.[4] His father died in 1828, and his mother then married Levi Taylor.[2] She was baptized a member of the Church of Christ in 1835,[5] and Smoot followed suit at the age of 20.[6] Warren Parrish baptized him on March 22, 1835.[2] He was then confirmed by David W. Patten, who promised he would be able to overcome his health problem. Smoot recorded that he "began to grow strong immediately."[3]:10

Soon after his baptism, he was given the responsibility of leading the small group of church members in Benton County, Tennessee.[7] He befriended Woodruff, who began preparing him for missionary work.[3]:11-12 The two became companions on a short mission to Tennessee and Kentucky, then attended school in Kirtland, Ohio, together,[8] learning Latin grammar. It was in Kirtland that Smoot met Joseph Smith and was able to see the sheets of papyrus that were said to contain the Book of Abraham.[2] During this time, Smoot recorded his suffering from typhoid fever and pleurisy, and his subsequent recovery after a blessing from Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, Willard Richards, and Hyrum Smith.[3]:16 After receiving his patriarchal blessing from Joseph Smith Sr., Smoot returned home to Tennessee.[3]:17


On February 4, 1836, Smoot was ordained an elder[7] and began preaching in Kentucky and Tennessee with Woodruff, Patten, and others.[2] This first mission lasted nine months. Smoot experienced both success and opposition as a missionary, encountering both mobs and those who accepted baptism.[7] While preaching, he also continued presiding over the branch of the church in his hometown. In the fall, the group of missionaries headed north to Kirtland, Ohio to join the main body of church members assembled there.[3]:12-15

Smoot received an assignment from Joseph Smith to gather a group of people from his home state to move to Far West, Missouri. He recruited his family and others, successfully creating a party of about 200 people. After helping his family settle in nearby Daviess County, Missouri,[3]:17-18 Smoot embarked on a five-month proselytizing mission to southern Missouri and Arkansas in 1838. Once he returned to Far West, Missouri state forces invaded,[2] and Smoot was taken prisoner on November 1 during the 1838 Mormon War,[3]:24 alongside Joseph and Hyrum Smith.[7] Smoot then moved to Montrose, Iowa and the new settlement of Zarahemla. He was chosen as a member of the high council there. In April 1842, he began another mission, this time in South Carolina. He preached in Charleston, but found no success and returned to Nauvoo, Illinois that July. He was then called to lead a branch of the church in Keokuk, Iowa. During Joseph Smith's 1844 presidential campaign, Smoot was assigned to travel to Tennessee and oversee both political and missionary efforts in the area. When he learned of the deaths of Joseph and Hyrmn, Smoot returned to Nauvoo.[3]:28-35 In 1844, he served another mission in Alabama, assigned by Brigham Young to direct the church in the South.[2] He gathered a group from this region to travel back to Nauvoo and eventually journey west.[7] In between his missions, Smoot volunteered as a police officer in Nauvoo and an officiator in the Nauvoo Temple.[2]

In 1851, Smoot embarked on another mission, this time to England.[7] His goal this time was to bring converts to the LDS Church back to the United States, sponsored by the Perpetual Emigration Fund.[8] Smoot left England within the same month of his arrival and, once back in the U.S., accompanied the party of British immigrants on the trek west. He contracted cholera while traveling, but recovered.[3]:56-59 The group arrived in Utah in September 1852.[1] He eventually served nine proselyting missions for the LDS Church,[9] in addition to two terms as a bishop.[10]

In 1880, when he was 65 years old, Smoot was assigned by John Taylor to travel with his son, Reed Smoot, to the Sandwich Islands. This was partly a mission for the church[11] and partly a trip designed to improve Smoot's health.[12] While in Hawaii, he met with King Kalakaua and taught him about his faith.[11]

Marriages and family[edit]

Abraham O. Smoot, ca.1880

In early 1838, while serving as a missionary in Missouri and Arkansas, Smoot began writing letters to a widow[3]:19 named Margaret Thompson McMeans Adkinson. She was six years older than Smoot.[13] He married her on November 11, 1838[14] in Far West, Missouri[15] while still a prisoner of war. Adkinson had one son from her first marriage named William,[2] whom Smoot adopted. Smoot described his new wife as "zealous and devoted to her religion and ready to sacrifice or endure anything to further its interests."[3]:26 The two were forced out of Missouri and fled to Iowa,[2] traveling with Caroline Skeen Butler and her four young children.[16] Smoot was the only man in the company and the driver of the wagon.[17] Adkinson then accompanied Smoot on the way to his mission in South Carolina; the couple stopped in Tennessee and, after visiting with her family, Adkinson returned north to Nauvoo. She later traveled with him to Alabama for his mission there.[2]

On January 9, 1846, Smoot began practicing plural marriage. He was sealed to his second wife, Sarah Gibbens, then to his third, Emily Hill, with the approval of Adkinson. She gave her "fullest and freest consent" for Smoot to enter into polygamy.[3]:40 Hill was a widow with two children from her previous marriage, William and Artimisia.[2] She was 39 years old, and Gibbens was 45.[13] On November 23, 1847, once the family had crossed the plains and settled in the Salt Lake Valley, Hill gave birth to Smoot's first biological child, Albert.[3]:48 She eventually had three more children: Margaret, Emily, and Zina Beal.[2] In 1850, the family relocated to Big Cottonwood Canyon.[3]:53 Gibbens did not emigrate to Utah and requested a divorce from Smoot in 1852.[14]

In 1855, he married Diana Tanner Eldredge.[3]:70 Smoot then wedded Anne Kirstine Morrison the following year. Morrison was an immigrant from Brekka, Norway. Eldredge gave birth to thirteen children and Morrison to seven.[2] He later married Hannah Caroline Rogers[18] in 1886 in Logan, Utah.[19][20] He reportedly went to prison for a time because of his plural marriages.[15]

Smoot had a total of twenty-seven children, three of whom he adopted.[13] They include Reed Smoot, born in Salt Lake City, who also became a politician and US Senator;[21] Brigham Smoot,[22] and Ida Smoot Dusenberry.[23] Another of his daughters, Zina Beal Smoot, was married to apostle Orson F. Whitney.[24]

Migration west[edit]

Sickness prevented Smoot from leaving Nauvoo, Illinois with the first group of Mormon pioneers. He and "a large company of his southern friends" began the trek west in May 1846. His wives, Adkinson and Hill, traveled with him, but Gibbens is not included on the record. By July, the group arrived in Council Bluffs, Iowa, where Smoot was called as a bishop. He was ordained to the office of bishop in January 1847[3]:41-43 when the company reached Winter Quarters, Nebraska and joined the other pioneers.[2] There, Smoot was named the leader of the fourth hundred, or a group of a hundred families.[3]:44 They had 120 wagons.[4] He offered "both temporal and spiritual guidance" to his group of 317 people as they made the journey west together.[7] Smoot's company arrived in Utah in September 1847.[25] They were the second group of pioneers to arrive in the Salt Lake Valley.[3]:46

Involvement with abolitionism and slavery[edit]

Smoot's southern ancestors were slaveholders.[26] As a Latter-day Saint missionary, he actively supported Joseph Smith's presidential platform, which called for the gradual elimination of slavery. On a mission to Tennessee, Smoot tried to have 3,000 copies of Smith's presidential platform printed, but the printer refused, since it was illegal to distribute abolitionist literature in the state.[27] While proselyting with Wilford Woodruff in July 1836, Smoot read the April issue of the Messenger and Advocate to refute accusations of their being abolitionists.[28]

In Utah Territory, Abraham and Margaret Smoot owned at least two men and one girl – Tom,[29] Jerry, and Lucy[30] - each of whom were given their freedom within two years. Jerry chose to remain with the Smoot family as they made their move to Provo, Utah, in 1868.[31] Modern historians have dubbed Smoot, along with Brigham Young, Charles C. Rich, and William H. Hooper, a "respectable minority" of Utah citizens "in favor of slavery."[32]

Smoot was later involved in the 1879 discussions among Latter-day Saint leaders about the origins of the priesthood and temple restrictions for black Latter-day Saints.[33] He hosted a gathering at his home in Provo, Utah, with John Taylor, Brigham Young Jr., Zebedee Coltrin, and L. John Nuttall. Smoot remembered that when David W. Patten, Warren Parish, and Thomas B. Marsh were missionaries in the South in 1835 and 1836, they took the question of ordaining black men to Joseph Smith. Southern slave codes limited the ability of enslaved people to assemble or preach.[34] Smoot recalled, "his decision as I understood, was that they were not entitled to the Priesthood, nor yet to be baptized without the consent of their Masters. In [later] years ... I became acquainted with Joseph myself in Far West about the year 1838. I received from Joseph substantially the same instructions. It was on my application to him what should be done with the Negro in the South as I was preaching to them. He said I could baptize them by the consent of their Masters, but not to confer the Priesthood upon them."[35] Pertaining to this statement, professor Gordon C. Thomasson has remarked: "It is extremely difficult to imagine [Smoot] inventing his oft-cited testimony, nor is it likely that the statements can be attributed totally to prejudice acquired or reinforced while serving as [a missionary]. Collusion is even more improbable."[36]

Leadership in Utah[edit]

Salt Lake City[edit]

Smoot led companies of pioneers to the Salt Lake Valley in 1847, 1852, and 1856.[3]:44, 64, 71 It was there that he served as bishop of the Fifteenth Ward of the LDS Church. He was also the Utah Territory's first elected justice of the peace.[37] Alongside Shadrach Roundy, Jedediah M. Grant, and John S. Fullmer, Smoot started the Great Salt Lake Valley Carrying Company, a business venture that involved the transportation of goods and people across the Great Plains during the California Gold Rush. Smoot himself lead thirteen such trips.[3]:50-52 He was an alderman from the Sugar House district from 1854 to 1857. He was elected as mayor of Salt Lake City in 1857, after the death of his business partner and then-mayor, Grant.[38] Smoot was re-elected, serving as mayor until 1866. He also served twice as a bishop in Salt Lake City.[2] After stepping down as mayor, he served for twelve years in the upper house of the Utah legislature.[5]

Provo and Brigham Young Academy[edit]

Early in 1868, Brigham Young called Smoot to be president of the Utah Stake in Provo. Young was concerned with church members' unity and cooperation, and he expected Smoot to improve the situation. According to family tradition, Smoot initially protested the call. After more than three decades of church and civic service, including nine missions, Smoot was apparently looking forward to enjoying the comforts brought by his hard work and successful business ventures.[10]

When Young told Smoot about the assignment, he reportedly said, "There are three places, all on a par, one is as good as the other. They are Provo, Hell, or Texas. You can take your choice."[4] Although Smoot supposedly responded, "I would sooner go to Hell than to Provo," he eventually took Provo.[39]

Provo Tabernacle, 1914, which Smoot helped fund and construct

By February 1868, Smoot moved to Provo with at least two of his wives and their children and a formerly enslaved man, Alexander Bankhead.[40][10] Within a week, Smoot was elected mayor, an office he held until 1881.[41] He reportedly received no compensation for his public service in both Provo and Salt Lake City.[5] Under his leadership, the Utah Southern Railroad, multiple streets, and the Provo Tabernacle were built.[4] Smoot contributed personally to the fund for the Tabernacle and worked to raise money from the community as well.[3]:139-154 He was a major investor in the Provo Woolen Mills and eventually became president of the business. Smoot was also co-founder and president of the First National Bank of Provo[5] and the Provo Lumber Manufacturing and Building Company.[2]

Smoot was the first president of the board of trustees of BYA[5] from 1875 until his death in 1895.[1] Smoot is credited with making major financial contributions to BYA,[5] which allowed its continued operations. Enrollment increased from 70 students to 313. It eventually developed into BYU. Today, BYU's administration building is named after Smoot.[4] Despite personal financial success, Smoot was heavily weighed down by the burden of debts from the construction of the Provo Tabernacle and Academy Building, for which he was personally liable,[2] until his passing.[11] He mortgaged his property in order to sustain BYA.[42]

Grave marker of A. O. Smoot in the Provo City Cemetery

Death and legacy[edit]

Smoot died on March 6, 1895 in Provo, Utah. He had celebrated his 80th birthday with a large gathering of family members just 17 days prior. His health had declined after an incident in 1893 when he was hit by a falling tree. Smoot's funeral was held on March 10, 1895 in the Provo Tabernacle.[11] The LDS Church's First Presidency - which included Lorenzo Snow and John Henry Smith - attended. Speakers included George Q. Cannon, Joseph E. Taylor, Joseph F. Smith, Wilford Woodruff, and Karl G. Maeser. According to The Latter Day Saints' Millenial Star, "the attendance at the funeral was the largest seen in Provo."[5] Woodruff also recorded that Smoot's funeral procession was "the longest [he had] ever seen in Utah."[43]

In 1962, BYU's administration building was named after Smooth. In 2015, Smoot was remembered and celebrated at BYU's homecoming.[4] In 1994 it was recorded that Smoot had "more than 3,000 descendants."[42] He has been called "one of the most prominent and influential men in the history of the State [of Utah]."[37] A collection of 257 manuscripts documenting Smoot's life, including his journals, letters, patriarchal blessing, and mission call, has been donated to the L. Tom Perry Special Collections Library at BYU's Harold B. Lee Library.[9]


  1. ^ a b c Neilson, Reid L.; Waite, Nathan N. (1 Feb 2017). Settling the Valley, Proclaiming the Gospel: The General Epistles of the Mormon First Presidency. Oxford University Press. p. 342. ISBN 019060090X.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s Whitney, Orson Ferguson (1904). History of Utah: Biographical. Salt Lake City: G.Q. Cannon. pp. 98–102.
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  4. ^ a b c d e f Teh, Michael (2015). "The Legacy of Abraham Smoot". BYU Magazine. Retrieved 2020-06-15.
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  10. ^ a b c Nixon, Loretta D. (1994). Abraham Smoot: A Testament of His Life. Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Press. pp. 213–219. ISBN 0842523243.
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  12. ^ Testimony of Important Witnesses as Given in the Proceedings Before the Committee on Privileges and Elections of the United States Senate: In the Matter of the Protest Against the Right of Hon. Reed Smoot, a Senator from the State of Utah, to Hold His Seat. Salt Lake Tribune Publishing Company. 1905. p. 3.
  13. ^ a b c Flake, Kathleen (2004). The Politics of American Religious Identity: The Seating of Senator Reed Smoot, Mormon Apostle. Univ of North Carolina Press. p. 186. ISBN 978-0-8078-5501-0.
  14. ^ a b Williams, Don B. (2004). Slavery in Utah Territory. Mt Zion Books. pp. 62–63. ISBN 0974607622.
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  18. ^ "Obituary for Caroline Rogers Smoot". Salt Lake Telegram. 1915-03-15. p. 9. Retrieved 2020-06-25.
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  23. ^ Jenson, Andrew (1914). Latter-Day Saint Biographical Encyclopedia: A Compilation of Biographical Sketches of Prominent Men and Women in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Volume 2. A. Jenson History Company. p. 619.
  24. ^ Jenson, Andrew (1901). Latter-Day Saint Biographical Encyclopedia: A Compilation of Biographical Sketches of Prominent Men and Women in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Andrew Jenson Histroy Company. p. 678.
  25. ^ Pioneers and Prominent Men of Utah. Utah Pioneers Book Publishing Company. 1913. p. 10.
  26. ^ Bush, Lester (1969). "Review: A COMMENTARY ON STEPHEN G. TAGGART'S: MORMONISM'S NEGRO POLICY: SOCIAL AND HISTORICAL ORIGINS". Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought. 4 (4): 89 – via JSTOR.
  27. ^ Robertson, Margaret C. (2000). "The Campaign and the Kingdom: The Activities of the Electioneers in Joseph Smith's Presidential Campaign". BYU Studies Quarterly. 39 (3): 155, 153.
  28. ^ Bush, Lester E. (2001). "Mormonism's Negro Doctrine: A Historical Overview" (PDF). Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought. Dialogue Foundation. 34 (1): 231.
  29. ^ Stack, Peggy Fletcher (2019-08-09). "Pioneer benefactor's ties to slavery raise questions for BYU, where a building bears his name". The Salt Lake Tribune. Retrieved 2020-06-25.
  30. ^ Brooks, Joanna (2018). "The Possessive Investment in Rightness: White Supremacy and the Mormon Movement". Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought. 51 (3): 58 – via JSTOR.
  31. ^ Brooks, Joanna (2020). Mormonism and White Supremacy: American Religion and The Problem of Racial Innocence. Oxford University Press. pp. 41–43.
  32. ^ Bringhurst, Newell G. (1981-08-01). "The Mormons and Slavery: A Closer Look". Pacific Historical Review. 50 (3): 332 – via University of California Press.
  33. ^ Reeve, Paul W. (2015). Religion of a Different Color: Race and the Mormon Struggle for Whiteness. Oxford University Press. pp. 195–196.
  34. ^ Hurd, John C. (1862). The Law of Freedom and Bondage in the United States. 2. Boston: Little, Brown & Company. pp. 9, 80, 87, 106, 151.
  35. ^ Harris, Matthew L.; Bringhust, Newell G., eds. (2015). The Mormon Church and Blacks: A Documentary History. University of Illinois Press. pp. 47–48.
  36. ^ Thomasson, Gordon C. (1973). "Lester Bush's Historical Overview: Other Perspectives". Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought. University of Illinois Press. 8 (1): 70 – via JSTOR.
  37. ^ a b Portrait, Genealogical and Biographical Record of the State of Utah: Containing Biographies of Many Well Known Citizens of the Past and Present. Utah: National Historical Record Company. 1902. pp. 344–345.
  38. ^ Tullidge, Edward William (1886). History of Salt Lake City. Salt Lake City: Star Printing. pp. 874–875.
  39. ^ Brown, Marilyn; Holladay, Valerie (2011). Provo. Arcadia Publishing. p. 34. ISBN 0738584673.
  40. ^ Pat Bagley. "Living History: Slaves arrived in Utah with Brigham Young". The Salt Lake Tribune.
  41. ^ Walch, Tad (2005-11-07). "Provo's wild bunch". Deseret News. p. B1.
  42. ^ a b "SMOOT FAMILY ORGANIZATION SHARES ITS LEGACY OF HONOR FROM ANCESTOR WHO GAVE ALL". Deseret News. 1994-10-24. Retrieved 2020-07-02.
  43. ^ Woodruff, Wilford (2018-04-05). History of His Life and Labors. BoD – Books on Demand. p. 555. ISBN 978-3-7326-6405-4.

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Jedediah M. Grant
Mayors of Salt Lake City
Succeeded by
Daniel H. Wells