A Brief Biography of William P Smith

Edited by Janet Franson Jeffery

My great-grandfather William P Smith was born in Tottington, Lancashire, England (map), 22 Jan 1810. He was the fourth child, of seven, of Thomas and Alice Smith.

We do not have much recorded about his early life. Family traditions say that his father was a medical doctor in England. One day a young lady came to Dr. Smith to have her ears pierced but he was out. His young son, William P, was in his office and told the girl that he could take care of her ear piercing for he had observed it done many times. So she consented to have him do it. He instructed her to lean over and place her ear lobe on a block of wood for this purpose. He very carefully placed the needle on her ear lobe and raising the mallet into the air quickly brought it down striking the needle with much force causing it to go through the ear piercing it. There was sudden panic in young William P,'s heart for he had pinned the girl right to the board. Seeing what he had done he turned and ran from the room leaving her pinned to the board.

William P Smith married a girl by the name of Mary Grimshaw. Mary's father did not approve of William going with his daughter. So she would sneak out to go with him. One night though her father heard her sneaking back into the house. He rushed outside carrying a club. Mr. Grimshaw was a small man, while William was a big man being 6 feet 3 inches tall. When Mary's father came at William with the club, William caught him by the foot and thrust him head first into the rain barrel. Mr. Grimshaw was so very angry that he turned her out telling her he never wanted to see her again. She then left her home and moved into William P's parent's home until their marriage. In England it was customary to announce their intended marriage by having their engagement announced in church for three Sundays, so Mary and William walked five miles to church for this purpose. They were then married. It is thought to be in 1834.

Their first child, Nathan (cemetery marker), was born 1 Mar 1835 in Bury, Lancashire, England. When he was five years old his father and mother heard the Mormon Elders preach. The first time William attended a "Mormon" meeting, it is said he went to scoff, but he was invited to come to the front and help with the singing. Through a very dear friend's influence, William and Mary were baptized in 1840. On 4 Sep 1842 they sailed on the ship Great Western leaving their family and friends in England.

When they left England they had 3 children Nathan, 7, Maria, 2; and baby Alice (cemetery marker), 3 weeks. Ann and Richard had already died.

They were on the ocean for six weeks and 3 days before they arrived in New York. It is believed that they stayed in New York for 1 year before continuing their journey to Nauvoo. Finally they were on their way again by water taking the cheaper route to Nauvoo going by way of the Gulf of Mexico and up the Mississippi River. While traveling on the water little Maria, 2 years old, died. William begged the captain of the ship to let them keep her little body until they reached land so they could bury her. They prepared her for burial and for a little casket they used a box that had been used to store clothing. The captain granted their wish and as they began up the Mississippi River they buried her on a little island or sand bar knowing that as the river floods would come she probably would be washed out to sea. But it did comfort them some.

William and Mary lived in Nauvoo (map) about 5 years where they had 2 more children born to them. They were Joseph, 1845 (cemetery marker); and Mary Ann, 1847.

They had been in Nauvoo only a short time when the Prophet Joseph and Hyrum Smith were martyred. They endured the many persecutions of the mob.

As the saints left Nauvoo William and Mary with their little family stayed behind because Mary and two children were very ill with malaria and lay insensible to all about them. Armed men came and ordered them to leave their home by the following Monday. Then 13 armed men came to see if they had left, they found them still there. When asked why they had not left yet William escorted them to see his wife and children. Seeing the mother and children in such a state the man in charge told them to leave when they could. William appealed to them for sympathy and their prayers were answered and they were allowed to stay. They searched the house for guns and ammunition but did not find any. William had seen them coming and had passed them through a hole in the back of the house to Nathan who ran and hid them in the corn patch.

The officers said that they might stay. They even gave William a job cleaning out the wells of the saints. The mob had thought that the Mormons had poisoned them as they had left the city.

Brigham Young had also appointed William to a committee to dispose of the church property and to sell it at the highest price he could get.

Mary and the children's illness seemed to be a handicap to them but yet it really was a blessing because they were much better prepared for their coming journey. When they left Nauvoo on the 16th October 1847 they started outfitted with one horse, one ox, and an old wagon with no cover. The weather was cold and wet and through the exposure Mary suffered very poor health. They continued on, the winter winds were cold and it was beginning to snow (map of the Pioneer Trail).

They stopped at Ferryville near Council Bluffs, Iowa (map), to rest and recuperate. Here William was called to preside over a branch of the Church. He served with Brothers Clark and Harris as counselors. They stayed there five years and Nathan and his father operated a ferry boat. It was here in Council Bluffs, Iowa, that William (1850) and Hyrum (picture) (1852) were born. They were able to gain more supplies and equipment for a better trip West. They even had some sheep and cattle. When Hyrum was but six weeks old they started again for Utah.

They started out and soon overtook the Captain Wheelock Company and joined them until a cholera outbreak. Nathan became ill with cholera and later said he was only saved by his mother's faith and her catnip tea. Many died and there was no time for proper burial or time to make caskets so they just rolled the bodies in a blanket or other clothing that would cover them and lowered them into a shallow grave, covering the grave and then dedicating it to the Lord "who giveth life and taketh away"

William decided to leave this train and go ahead. Soon they over took the Captain McGray Company. They continued to Utah with them, arriving in Salt Lake City, the 6th of Oct. 1852. They were only 7 weeks on the plains. In just 10 days from their arrival they moved to South Cottonwood (Union Fort; map; see also Union Ward).

Here they settled in Union where William was the first doctor. He was a bone doctor (the first in Utah) and also pulled teeth.

One day after getting settled William went into the canyon with a group of men to get a supply of wood. They heard someone groaning and upon investigating they found an Indian with a broken leg because a tree had fallen on him. William set the leg and cared for the Indian. Because of this wonderful healing the Indians thought William to be some kind of a god and they never harmed him or his family. The Indians referred to him as "Medicine Man", and often sent to him if they were not well. When other people feared the Indians and built the fort he said, "Tut, Tut, they will not harm thee." This was proven as far as he was concerned because they never did harm him or his family even when the Indians went on the war path,

The Smith home was blessed by the arrival of two other children. Tom (1854) was born not long after they settled in Union and little John (1856) came to the home about two years later. Fate had willed that Mary Grimshaw Smith was not to live long in Utah, for only five years after their arrival death claimed her. She was called home to her maker, 14 Nov 1856, her duty well done (cemetery marker). She was the mother of 11 children, 7 living at her death, the youngest only a few months old.

The eldest daughter, Alice, then 14 years of age cared for the family in her mother's stead, until her marriage in 1858 to George Done, Sr.

In 1857, the youngest child John lay critically ill when his brother just a few years older stood gazing out of the window. All at once he exclaimed, "Come quick, here is Mother!" Members of the family ran to the window but could see nothing unusual. Tommy said, "Can't you see her, she's standing on the chopping block. She is coming for Johnny at seven o'clock in the morning." The next morning at 7:00 a.m. the baby passed away.

William began farming, raising stock, fruit and such things as can be raised on a farm. He also worked as a weaver. He had learned this trade in England. There was a great demand for this type of work so he pursued his weaver's trade. While engaged in weaving he met and married a woman from Sweden, Anna Jonsson Bengtson, who also was a weaver. They were married 12 Dec 1863 in the Endowment House, Anna stood as proxy for Mary Grimshaw to be sealed to William P Smith the same day.

Within a year, Anna gave birth to a tiny son, who did not remain long with them. He was named James. He was buried in the Union cemetery (cemetery marker). Anna and William's second child, Zilphia, was born 5 Sep 1865. Before she had been long with her parents the Smith couple began to have trouble. William was excommunicated on 21 April 1867 and it was then that Anna left him. Several months later she gave birth to their third child, Elizabeth. Their sealing was canceled 25 Sept. 1867.

William joined with the Reorganized Church, or the Josephites, as they were sometimes called. (He has since been reinstated by proxy baptism on 26 May 1969 and all blessings restored. This was accomplished through the efforts of his great-granddaughter, Anna Mae R. Blazzard. She researched and presented his work to the First Presidency for special consideration to be reinstated.)

When Zilphia was 5, and Elizabeth was 3 their mother met and married Alfred Johnson, who lived near Union. They later moved to Peoa, Summit County, Utah along the upper Weber River (Oakley).

William P Smith married Sarah Pidd Griffiths (picture), a widow, on the 26 Nov 1867. In Nov. of 1868 twins were born to Sarah and William. Isaac died shortly after birth and Sarah died when about 7 years of age (cemetery marker).

Lucy Griffiths (picture), Sarah's daughter and William's stepdaughter, lived in their home and helped them with the weaving. She explains what they did.

"In the 1850's people sheared their sheep, corded their wool into rolls, spun the rolls into yarn, wove the yarn into cloth, and made up the cloth into clothes to wear. But at the time mother married William P Smith, there was a factory built in Salt Lake where they could take their wool and trade it for yarn so Mother and Father took theirs to the factory and brought yarn home. Father Smith owned a loom and after the summer work was over the weaving would commence. First the warp was reeled on to the warping frame wick. This kept mother and I busy for about 3 days. Then it was put onto the loom. Then weaving commenced. Father Smith was a weaver in the old country and he sure could make the shuttle fly. I and Mother would wind the bobbins, we had to make the wheel fly to keep him going. I can hear him now calling out "bobbins, bobbins" in his shrill voice and it sure made him out of patience if he had to wait for them. We would fill all the bobbins we had at night to try to keep ahead of him. Sometimes something would get wrong with the warp and he would have to get off to fix it and I would say in my mind thank goodness he didn't say it out loud. He wove three kind of cloth. One kind was Jeans for mens clothes, another Linsey, for women, and another flannel used for women. He also wove blankets. The cloth he wove was very long lasting."

Lucy later married William P's son, Hyrum.

William P Smith was a very strong minded individual. When Sarah and William were married it is told that if something happened that William did not like he would sulk. He would go for days and not sit down to eat with her. She always set him a plate so it would not be said of her that she neglected her husband by not feeding him. But he would not join her. Instead he would peel a potato with his pocket knife and cook it over the fire rather than sitting at the table with her.

William P Smith had been married to 3 women, not in polygamy, and fathered 16 children. His posterity is numerous. He died the 12 November 1893 and was buried in the Union Cemetery (cemetery marker).

He accomplished much in his life overcoming much hardship and many trials. As the search was conducted for proof for his being reinstated in the church it was found that he encouraged his family "to stay close to the Church, for it is the true Church"


  1. William P Smith, by Pearl Wardle Oakeson
  2. Sketches of the Life of William P Smith, author unknown
  3. Life Story of William P Smith, written or copied by Minnie F. Richards, Granddaughter
  4. Union As My Grandmother Knew It She Was Lucy Ann Griffiths Smith, by Pearl Wardle Oakeson
  5. The Life of Zilphia Smith Franson, by Leora Lake Franson
  6. Life of Alice Smith Done, author unknown
  7. Stories related by Allie Wardle to Janet Franson in 1954

Genealogy Collection provided by:
Becky S. Porter, 2493 S. Hulls Crossing, Preston, Idaho 83263

E-Mail: Roland K. Smith