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Melissa Smith (Lott)

Birthplace: Tunkhannock, PA, USA
Death: Died in Lehi, UT, USA
Immediate Family:

Daughter of Cornelius Peter Lott and Permelia Lott
Wife of Ira Jones Willes and Joseph Smith Jr., Prophet
Mother of Lyman Willes
Sister of John Smiley Lott; Mary Elizabeth Lott; Almira Henrietta Lott; Permelia Jane Lott; Lucinda Alzina Willes and 5 others
Half sister of Isaiah Barkdell Lott

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About Melissa Smith

By June of 1842, the Lott family, including daughter Melissa, were living and working on the Joseph Smith farm just a few miles southeast of Nauvoo. Melissa’s father, Cornelius, managed the farm for the Prophet Joseph. This same year, eighteen-year-old Melissa moved to Nauvoo and lived in the Joseph Smith home, most likely helping with the children and household chores. Joseph III, was one of the Smith children Melissa would have cared for. He remembers Melissa was, “a tall, fine-looking woman with dark complexion, dark hair and eyes. She was a good singer, quite celebrated in a local way. I have heard her sing at parties and receptions in private home [and] on the stage where theatrical performances were given...”

In June of 1843 Melissa was back at home living on the farm with her parents. Near the end of the month, Eliza R. Snow, Elvira Holmes, Elizabeth Durfee and Elizabeth Whitney visited the Lott farm. Eliza, Elvira and Elizabeth D. had married Joseph Smith a year earlier. Elizabeth W. was the mother of another one of Joseph’s wives, Sarah Ann Whitney. As a “Mother in Israel”, Elizabeth Durfee previously had an influential role in preparing the Partridge sisters to accept a plural marriage proposal from Joseph. Perhaps these women now helped prepare Melissa in the same way.

By Fall of that year, Melissa had agreed to wed Joseph and they were married on September 20, 1843. Melissa’s parents stood witness at the ceremony. Melissa later recalled the wedding vows, “You both mutually agree to be each other’s companion, husband and wife, observing the legal rights belonging to this condition, that is, keeping yourselves wholly for each other, and from all others during your lives." Joseph’s wife, Sarah Ann Whitney, remembered similar vows, with an exception for Joseph who, of course, had many other wives: "...reserving only those rights which have been given to my servant Joseph by revelation."

On the same day that Melissa married Joseph, her parents, Cornelius and Permelia, were sealed together for eternity. As with the parents Sarah Ann Whitney, and Helen Mar Kimball.

Melissa described the contrasting elements to her and Joseph’s relationship, “I did not go to church with Joseph Smith, was never seen on the streets or in public places with him as his wife during his lifetime”. However, Melissa said they did share intimate moments, and that she was Joseph’s wife, “in very deed”. The following winter, Melissa returned to the Smith home to live. She continued to help with the Smith children. Joseph III, Fredrick and Alexander, attended the same school as Melissa, and she would escort them to school and back. In the Summer of 1844 Melissa was widowed when Joseph was killed in Carthage.

31. Melissa Lott (Smith) (Bernhisel) (Willis), 1824-98. The daughter of Cornelius Lott, a close friend of Joseph Smith, she married Joseph on September 20, 1843, at age nineteen. After his death, she married John Bernhisel, the prominent Mormon politician, on February 8, 1846, but the marriage did not last. She then married Ira Willis on May 13, 1849, with whom she settled in Lehi; she bore him seven children. Ira and a son died in a farming accident in 1863.

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Melissa Smith's Timeline

January 13, 1824
Tunkhannock, PA, USA
September 20, 1843
Age 19
Nauvoo, Hanncock, Illinois, United States

Since Joseph explained his Kirtland relationship with Fanny Alger to the Missouri High Council, those mid-1830s circumstances were public enough that Emma had necessarily discussed them with her husband.15 It was not until 1841 that we are aware of another plural wife being sealed to the Prophet, which fact tells us that there was an interim of waiting until—as he explained to Lorenzo Snow and others—he was commanded to proceed or be destroyed. Under this kind of pressure, the Prophet surely sought Emma's consent in taking other wives. After the July 1843 crisis that produced Doctrine and Covenants 132, Clayton wrote a journal entry dated 19 October 1843 about a conversation with Joseph Smith, in which he claimed that, in a polygamy and temple-sealing context, Emma "was turned quite friendly and kind."17 This was a month after Hyrum married Joseph to Melissa Lott in the presence of her parents, and Melissa understood this was done with Emma's permission. In the transcript of Salt Lake City depositions in the 1892 Temple Lot Case, Melissa answered "Yes, sir," when the lawyer asked if Emma gave her consent to Melissa's marriage to Joseph. Asked who told her that Emma had given her consent, Melissa said, "My father and mother." And asked whether they went to Emma for this consent, Melissa answered: "I don't know that they went to her or she came there. I know they were both there at the time with Brother Joseph—father and mother—the whole of them, talking a good many times."

May 13, 1849
Age 25
Salt Lake City, Salt Lake, Utah, USA
July 13, 1898
Age 74
Lehi, UT, USA