LIFE STORY OF MARTHA McBRIDE KNIGHT SMITH KIMBALL
Martha McBride was born on 17 March 1805 in Chester, Washington, New York, the youngest of 9 children born to her parents, Daniel McBride and Abigail Mead. Martha’s father, an itinerant pre-Campbellite minister, moved the family to western New York, where he died when Martha was 18 years old.
Martha married Vinson Knight on 26 July 1826. She and her husband continued to reside near her relatives in western upstate New York in Perrysburg, Cattaraugus County, where their first 4 children were born. They acquired considerable wealth from the produce of their farm in New York.
Starting in 1833, several members of the McBride family joined the LDS Church. Martha and her husband were baptized into the LDS Church on 24 March 1834, after personally being taught in their home by the Prophet Joseph Smith.
In June 1835 Martha and her family, now consisting of 4 children, moved to Kirtland, Ohio to gather with other Latter-day Saints. They resided in a fine home on the corner of Coudry and Joseph Streets near the Kirtland Temple (this home is still standing). Here her husband became a counselor in the Kirtland bishopric. Martha received her Patriarchal Blessing on 24 June 1835 in Kirtland at the hands of Joseph Smith, Sr. She gave birth to one son in Kirtland, Nathaniel Knight, in 1835 (the name of Nathaniel was selected by Joseph Smith, Sr.); he died on 31 October 1836. On 2 January 1837 Martha and her husband signed the new Articles of Agreement of the Kirtland Safety Society.
In September 1837, Martha’s husband left for Missouri with Joseph Smith, being gone for 2 months. Deep apostasy and persecution took hold in Kirtland during that period. The Knight family moved with other faithful Latter-day Saints in the spring of 1838 to Missouri, arriving at the end of May 1838 at Far West, Caldwell, Missouri. They settled in Adam-ondi-Ahman in Daviess County where Vinson was appointed Bishop on 28 June 1838. Very quickly persecution again descended upon the Knight family and others. Within a very brief period, Martha and her family, suffering greatly, were driven from their home by a mob. Her husband later executed an affidavit in October 1839 itemizing a bill of damages against the State of Missouri for $10,000 in compensation for property lost and expenses incurred during the expulsion--one of the largest claims made by a Latter-day Saint family for damages suffered in Missouri.
Forced to flee Missouri following Governor Bogg’s Extermination Order, Martha’s family found refuge with some friends in Pike County, Missouri near the Mississippi River, where Martha gave birth to Martha Abigail Knight on 9 February 1839.
In April 1839 Martha’s husband left for Iowa to purchase land on which the suffering Saints could settle. Martha and her husband moved to Commerce (later Nauvoo), Hancock, Illinois in 1839. In this new Mormon city, which Vinson Knight helped select, Martha and her husband constructed a sturdy two-storey red brick home on Main Street, said to be the first brick house in Nauvoo, on the same block as the homes of Brigham Young and John Taylor (this home is still standing).
Martha and her husband were soon very involved in the affairs of their faith and community. In 1839 Vinson became aide-de-camp to Joseph Smith in the Nauvoo Legion and Bishop of the Lower Ward in Nauvoo. Later he became a member of the first Nauvoo city council and a Regent of the University of the City of Nauvoo. In Nauvoo Martha’s last child by Vinson, Rodolphus Elderkin Knight, was born in 1841. During the April 1841 General Conference, Elder Ezra T. Benson stayed with the Knight family.
Martha was equally involved in the key events of Nauvoo. She was a founding member of the LDS Relief Society, being present at the organization meeting on 17 March 1842 in Nauvoo, which also happened to be her 37th birthday. Martha was told by Joseph Smith that she was the first woman to give her consent for her husband to enter into plural marriage. The story is told that Martha knew something was worrying her husband and he couldn’t seem to tell her about it. One evening as Martha was sitting in the grape arbor behind the house, Vinson returned home carrying a basket. He explained to Martha that he had taken some fruit and vegetables to the widow of Levi N. Merrick, whose husband had been killed at Haun’s Mill. Vinson explained to Martha that he had been told to enter plural marriage and that, if he had to, this Sister Merrick would be the one he could help best. Martha’s reply is said to have been, “Is that all.” Perhaps she had confidence in her husband’s choice, since Philindia Clark Eldredge Merrick (Myrick) was also a founding member of the Relief Society.
At a time when Martha and her husband were becoming even more greatly involved in the affairs of Nauvoo, her husband of 16 years suddenly took ill and died on 31 July 1842 in Nauvoo at the relatively young age of 38. Joseph Smith preached at the funeral, stating that Vinson was the best friend he ever had on earth. One month later Martha lost her youngest child less than one year old, Rodolphus Elderkin Knight, who died on 3 September 1842.
At the time of Vinson’s death, their house was not quite finished. In order to make ends meet, Martha moved to the second floor and rented out the downstairs floor to the George Grant family.
Sometime during the summer of 1842 (one source states this was before the death of Vinson Knight), Martha McBride Knight was married polygamously to Joseph Smith, Jr. by Heber C. Kimball.
Tragedy struck again 2 years later when Martha’s youngest daughter, Martha Abigail Knight, died on 19 March 1844 at the age of 5, her third child to die young. Barely three months thereafter on 27 June 1844, Joseph Smith, Jr. and his brother Hyrum Smith were martyred in Carthage. Following their martyrdom, Martha furnished sheets to cover the bodies until they could be prepared for burial. As one of Joseph Smith’s polygamous wives, Martha obtained a lock of his hair clipped by Brother Cahoon from the back of his head; this heirloom is still in the possession of one of Martha’s descendants.
Later that same year Martha’s oldest daughter Almira left the LDS Church over the issue of polygamy, marrying on 10 November 1844 a disaffected Latter-day Saint widower, Sylvester B. Stoddard, who owned a tin shop on Main Street in Nauvoo just one block away from the Knight home. On 27 April 1845 Martha leased from Mr. Stoddard his home on Water Street for 6 months.
Martha married Heber C. Kimball on 26 January 1846 in the Nauvoo Temple “for time.” The Nauvoo Temple records show her name as “Martha McBride Smith.” She and Heber had one child, a son, who was born about 1846 at Winter Quarters and died as an infant.
Two months after her marriage to Heber C. Kimball, on 26 March 1846, Martha left Nauvoo as part of the forced exodus of the Saints for the West. She arrived at Mount Pisgah in Iowa on 7 June or July 1846 and at the Big Springs west of the Missouri River on 30 June or July 1846. She took up residence with her married daughters Adaline Knight Belnap and Rizpah Knight Gibbons; their wagons in Winter Quarters were formed in 2 large hollow squares. In the spring of 1847 Martha’s son-in-law Andrew Smith Gibbons left with the first company of Saints to enter the Salt Lake Valley. Martha’s mother Abigail Mead McBride left for Utah a short while later on 17 June 1847 in company with Martha’s brothers Samuel and John McBride.
Martha departed for Utah on 15 June 1850 in the Warren Foote Company, 2nd hundred, in company with her daughter Adaline Knight Belnap, Adaline’s husband Gilbert, and their 2 young sons. Gilbert Belnap served as captain of their ten. Also in the emigrant company was Martha’s son James Vinson Knight.
One week after departing for the West, Martha’s daughter Adaline lost her second son who had taken ill in the evening of 21 June 1850 with a cholera plague that was sweeping the camp. The child died in the latter part of the night on 22 June 1850 and was buried near the confluence of Salt Creek and the Platte River near Ashland, Nebraska in a tool chest of Gilbert’s which dovetailed together with a tight-fitting lid.
Martha arrived in the Salt Lake Valley on 17 September 1850. Two weeks later, she went to Ogden, Weber, Utah with her daughter Adaline’s family, who were sent by Brigham Young to settle there. Their first home was a dugout in the side of a hill on Canfield Creek in Sullivan Hollow at about 30th Street and Madison Avenue.
Shortly after arriving in Ogden, Gilbert Belnap was coming home with his mother-in-law Martha on his wagon. As they were coming down the steep hill along what is now Madison Avenue, the oxen could not hold the wagon and began to run (another version states the wagon hit a stump). Martha was thrown beneath the wagon, which ran over her. Martha’s lifeless body, found lying face down in the dust, was carried by Gilbert back to their dugout home and the neighbors gathered around to help revive her. Martha said after she recovered that she saw her body as it lie in the dust and at the house, as if she was standing to one side with the rest of the people looking on.
On 3 January 1856 Martha became 1st counselor to Patience Delila Pierce Palmer in the first LDS Relief Society organized in Weber County, which functioned until the “Move South” in 1858. Martha and her daughter Adaline were members of a Relief Society committee that dressed the frozen and bleeding feet of the members of a handcart company brought to Ogden by a scouting party. This committee cared for their wants and provided homes for them until their recovery.
Although Martha was one of Heber C. Kimball’s polygamous wives, she does not appear to have lived with him very long, if at all, after her arrival in Utah, although he came to see her occasionally in Ogden until his death in 1868.
Martha did not stay in one place until she was quite old. She felt alone and without a home until she went to live with her daughter Adaline in her later years. In the spring of 1858, Martha left Ogden as a participant in the “Move South.” She and Adaline’s family went to Springville in Utah Valley on account of the approach of Johnston’s Army. She did not return with her daughter Adaline’s family to Ogden, but remained in Springville for a season, where she was still living in July 1859. At the end of February 1860, Martha, who had gone to Fillmore, Millard, Utah to be with McBride relatives, left Fillmore for Santa Clara, Washington, Utah, where she was living on 10 March 1860. Here she lived with her daughter Rizpah’s family at least through the fall of 1861. In April 1863 Martha was back in Springville and in May 1864 she was back in Santa Clara. Later that fall she returned to Springville. Martha was living in Fillmore on 8 July 1869 when she signed an affidavit before Edward Partridge stating that she had been married to Joseph Smith in the summer of 1842.
Following her daughter Adaline’s move to Hooper in 1869, Martha spent most of her remaining years in Hooper, although she continued to move around the Territory of Utah on occasion for approximately another decade. On 16 February 1872 Martha received a second Patriarchal Blessing in Hooper at the hands of John Smith. In January 1875 she was still living there with her daughter Adaline.
In April 1877 Martha attended the dedication of the St. George Temple, where she performed ordinance work for many of her deceased ancestors. She appears to have remained in St. George and nearby Santa Clara for at least one year. In November 1878 she was with her son James in Circleville, Piute, Utah. About 1880 Martha’s daughter Almira who had apostatized came to Ogden with her second husband George Hanscom for a brief visit. Martha was in Hooper at the time.
In 1882 Martha came back to Ogden and kept house for Gilbert Belnap’s girls while they went to high school. In 1883 Martha moved to Hooper to stay with the wife of her grandson Joseph Belnap while he was away on an LDS mission. She appears to have remained in Hooper continually hereafter, living in a room of her own in her daughter’s house.
In 1891 Martha’s brother Reuben died, leaving Martha the last living child in her family. Ten years later, on 20 November 1901, Martha McBride Knight Smith Kimball died in Hooper at the home of her daughter Adaline. She was 96 years old. Adaline was in the same room at the time of Martha’s death but had dozed off while sitting on the foot of her mother’s bed, thus fulfilling a prophecy made by Heber C. Kimball to Adaline that she would not actually see her mother die. Following one of the largest and most impressive funerals ever held in Hooper, a funeral cortege nearly half a mile long traveled to Ogden, where Martha was buried on 24 November 1901 in the Ogden City Cemetery in the Gilbert Belnap family plot.
An obituary of Martha, entitled “Widow of Prophet Joseph Smith Dead,” stated that: “The physical strength and endurance of Mrs. Knight was well-nigh marvelous. For nearly twenty years she had not used spectacles. Her needlework was a model for fineness amongst all her acquaintances for the past fifty years. She was a great reader, particularly of the daily papers, reading every word of telegraphic news, and during the Spanish-American war she was regarded as one of the best posted persons in Weber county on the military operations of the contending forces.” The obituary continued: “Two or three years ago at a birthday reunion of the family held in her honor, Mrs. Knight was called on for a speech, and prefaced one of considerable length with a recital of the tremendous changes which had taken place in her lifetime, mentioning the steam engine, the modern printing press and the telegraph. To illustrate this latter she described with what slowness news traveled when she was a young woman of 40, and wound up her recital of how on that very day the entire country was able to watch every detail of a little affair at Carson City when Corbett was knocked out by Fitzsimmons.”
Martha’s handmade handkerchief linen temple robe, used in the Nauvoo Temple, and a colorful handmade quilt top are preserved by her descendants. She took first prize making buttonholes at the New York State Fair when she was 10 years old. She was extremely neat and clean. A granddaughter remembered that her shoes had to fit like kid gloves before she would wear them. She was a dainty little woman, with fine delicate features, gray-blue eyes, and dark (some say light brown) hair.
In 1941 a granddaughter of Martha’s swore in an affidavit that, while Martha was alive, her parents, Gilbert and Adaline Belnap, received from the LDS Church $20.00 per month for an extensive period to purchase clothes and food for Martha, and that the LDS Church, upon Martha’s death, sent a casket and burial clothes for Martha to Hooper to Bishop Childs, Bishop of the Hooper Ward.
Martha was privileged to participate in some of the most pivotal moments in early LDS Church history. She personally knew and was later married to central figures of the LDS Church, including Joseph Smith, Jr. and Heber C. Kimball. A founding member of the Relief Society, she witnessed first hand the severe persecutions directed against the Latter-day Saints in Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois. She was at the meeting when the mantle of Joseph Smith fell upon Brigham Young. She was present at the dedication of each of the Kirtland, Nauvoo, and St. George Temples. She remained firmly devoted to her religion her entire life.
Today Martha McBride Knight Smith Kimball’s posterity numbers in the tens of thousands, most of whom are still members of the LDS Church. Her daughter Almira Knight Stoddard Hanscom, who left the LDS Church, returned to Ohio and died leaving no posterity; Almira was buried next to the Kirtland Temple. Her daughter Rizpah married Andrew Smith Gibbons, who was in the first company of Saints into the Salt Lake Valley in July 1847; Rizpah settled in southern Utah and Arizona. Her daughter Adaline Knight Belnap served as President of the Hooper Relief Society for 36 years; she was a midwife and nurse in Weber County, Utah and left a large posterity. Her son James Vinson Knight settled Piute County, Utah. Included among Martha’s posterity is a General Authority of the LDS Church, Elder Francis M. Gibbons.
(Written by Brent J. Belnap. Submitted on behalf of the Belnap Family Organization to the Daughters of Utah Pioneers in 1995.)
Name: Martha McBride Knight Smith Kimball
Born: 17 March 1805, Chester, Washington, New York
Died: 20 November 1901, Hooper, Weber Utah
Parents: Daniel McBride and Abigail Mead
Pioneer Arrival: 17 September 1850
Company: Warren Foote Company, 2nd Hundred (by wagon)
1st Spouse: Vinson Knight
Married: 26 July 1826, probably New York
1st Spouse’s Death: 31 July 1842, Nauvoo, Hancock, Illinois
Children: 1. Almira Knight, born 21 June 1827
2. Rizpah Knight, born 13 May 1829
3. Adaline Knight, born 4 May 1831
4. James Vinson Knight, born 4 September 1833
5. Nathaniel Knight, born 31 December 1835
6. Martha Abigail Knight, born 9 February 1839
7. Rodolphus Elderkin Knight, born 29 September 1841
2nd Spouse: Joseph Smith, Jr.
Married: Summer 1842, Nauvoo, Hancock, Illinois
2nd Spouse’s Death: 27 June 1844, Carthage, Hancock, Illinois
3rd Spouse: Heber Chase Kimball
Married: 26 January 1846, Nauvoo, Hancock, Illinois
3rd Spouse’s Death: 22 June 1868, Salt Lake City, Salt Lake, Utah
Children: 1. (son) Kimball, born about 1846