review – “My Candid Opinion”: The Sandwich Island Diaries of Joseph F. Smith, 1856-1857

Dialogue:  A Journal of Mormon Thought, reviewed by Steve Evans


My Candid OpinionMany examples of missionary journals are available from early days of the Church. (See, for example, the diaries collected in Brigham Young University’s online archive collection In reading through them, one finds that they often share a remarkable number of common themes: the depraved state of the locals, the horrible food, slacker companions, and the struggles with competing missionaries of other faiths. It would seem that little has changed in the contents of these journals over time. Indeed, there must be some ur-text for missionary journals, some platonic form for writing of the mixture of doldrums, panic, and interpersonal struggle that seems common to all who embark on the Lord’s errand while in their youth.

While the original missionary pictographs may be on some cave walls somewhere near Spring Hill, Missouri, this book provides a new and extremely valuable set of missionary diaries: the Sandwich Island diaries of Joseph F. Smith, tracking his mission in the Hawaiian Islands from January 1, 1856, to October 21, 1857, the last two of his three-year service on the islands These diaries cover twenty-two months; two earlier volumes, spanning presumably from his arrival in September 1854 to the end of 1855, were destroyed in a fire in June 1856. Transcribed with great attention to detail by Nathaniel Ricks, who received his master’s degree in history from Brigham Young University, the diaries trace the day-to-day acts of Joseph F. through an extremely formative time. Ricks occasionally includes historical background at key points, as well as biographical detail for individuals whom Joseph F. encounters or with whom he corresponds. On the whole, the diaries are invaluable—they provide unique insight into the adolescent days of the sixth president of the Church, as he complains of bad food and ignorant natives, as he quarrels with mission companions, and writes to potential future wives.

At age fifteen, Joseph F. departed from Salt Lake City shortly after being ordained an elder in April 1854 and spent the next three years traveling between Hawaii, Oahu, and other Hawaiian islands, at first learning the language, then presiding over various areas. Already known as something of a firebrand, Joseph F. had a headstrong personality that shines through the journals; he is unafraid, bold in declaring the messages of the Restoration and of the gathering, and brash at times in his judgments of native Hawaiians and his fellow Saints. Nonetheless, there is much that these diaries do not include. Those who are looking for the original occurrence of legendary JFS stories like that of his Hawaiian “Ma”, the “True Blue” story (, or his “Dream of Manhood” ( will be disappointed, for there is nothing in the diaries to suggest that any of these experiences ever took place. These omissions may be due to the limited time span covered by the diaries, but they still leave us without an original record about these landmark events in Joseph F.’s life. As a result, these diaries do little to corroborate the formative stories told by Joseph F. himself.

That said, the diaries themselves have some great moments of their own that have previously been unknown—nothing perhaps as grandiose as the Dream of Manhood, but a few interesting themes of note emerge:

Joseph as hothead. One particular highlight is that of JFS getting into a fistfight with a missionary companion who calls him a “Damn Shit Ass” and charges that Joseph F. purposely misplaced the companion’s scissors. But Joseph F. regularly loses his temper, shouting at Saints in his sermons, hotly debating local preachers, or berating natives for hoarding food instead of feeding him.

Joseph as racist. His view of the native islanders ranges from love and appreciation, to expressed confidence in the eventual white skins that righteous Hawaiians will achieve, to condemning them as fundamentally lazy and dishonest. It’s unclear how or whether his view of the people evolved during the course of hismission; by my own estimation more praise is given to native islanders in the early parts of the diaries.

Joseph as omnivore. Yes, a great deal of the diaries describes Joseph’s reading a wide variety of texts and continually applying himself intellectually, but he didn’t just hunger intellectually. A surprising amount of the diaries is composed of descriptions of food—or lack thereof. I daresay Joseph F. never ate another sweet potato, and it’s clear he lost his taste for poi before he ever acquired it. A typical entry reads: “we have Been with out anything to ear [sic], having nothing this morning but about a half a pint of goats milk, and a little Boiled squash! we had nothing els[e]. no! not somuch as Salt!! hard times.” I estimate that at least half of the diary entries include complaints about the food.

Joseph as teenager. Like any good missionary, Joseph F. spends a good deal of time loafing. Many days are spent in reading the Deseret News, mending his shoes, hiking in the jungle, or watching ships come in to the harbor at Lahaina. To his credit, however, there is little indication in the diaries that Joseph F. got trunky as the time of his return home approached.

To summarize: Joseph F. was a seventeen-year-old on a mission in Hawaii, and behaved like one. Joseph F. served in Hawaii during a very interesting time in LDS history: The gathering of the Hawaiian Saints to Lanai had scarcely begun, the Mormon Reformation of 1856–57 would soon be in full swing and the specter of the Mountain Meadows Massacre in September 1857 was just around the corner. Hints of these themes are seen throughout the diaries, both in Joseph F.’s own writings and in the letters he receives. Ricks helpfully includes portions of such letters when Joseph F.’s diaries indicate having received them, although they are provided selectively and perhaps not as uniformly as more voracious readers might prefer. But despite living in such tumultuous times, Joseph F.’s diaries are reassuringly familiar; he was desperate for word from home, living among a people who seemed utterly foreign to him, while trying his best to live up to his birthright. As a result, the Sandwich Island diaries are immediately recognizable as an LDS missionary experience and yet retain an intensely foreign quality, both because of cultural shifts over time and because of Joseph F.’s unique character. The diaries are helpful and engaging, both as a resource and as a reminder to us that, when it comes to missionary work, the more things change the more they remain the same.



The Journal of Mormon History, reviewed by John J Hammond

Nathaniel R. Ricks, who earned an M.A. in history at Brigham Young University–Provo and currently teaches at Pikes Peak Community College and Falcon Middle School in Colorado Springs, has performed an admirable service for those interested in Mormon and Hawaiian history by publishing an annotated typescript of the Sandwich Islands diaries/journals of the teenage missionary Joseph F. Smith.

In a brief but informative eleven-page introduction, Ricks indicates that Joseph F. was the son of the martyred Hyrum Smith and Mary Fielding Smith. No doubt traumatized by his father’s violent death and funeral when he was about five, Joseph F. was further traumatized by the death of his mother in 1852 when he was thirteen: “Over the ensuing months and years Joseph F. struggled to find himself,” becoming “something of a troublemaker.” This difficult period involved “experimentation with both tobacco and alcohol,” as well as a physical assault on his male schoolteacher (vii–viii, 23 note 3).

Although Ricks does not mention it, by the spring of 1854 Brigham Young had been informed by leaders in the Hawaiian mission that older men found it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to learn the native language,1 so fifteen-year-old Joseph F., sixteen-year-old John R. Young (Brigham’s nephew),and others in their early twenties, were dispatched to Hawaii—in Joseph F.’s case, probably with the double hope that he could boost missionary work in the islands and get “reformed” in the process.

On the first page there is a wonderful photograph of Joseph F., taken just after his return to Utah from the Islands. Before beginning the typescript, Ricks provides six pages of brief but helpful biographical information on seventy-nine “Prominent Characters” whose names appear in the diaries, including Protestant missionaries and other “gentiles.” There is a good physical description of the six-volume diary, which consists of makeshift collections of pages sewn together by hand. Unfortunately, the first two volumes were destroyed when a cottage burned in early June 1856 at the mission “gathering place” on Lana’i. (Joseph F. was then on the Big Island of Hawaii.) These lost diaries apparently covered his journey to the islands, his arrival at Honolulu in September 1854, and roughly the first twenty months of his mission, which lasted until October 1857. Virtually all of Joseph F.’s personal possessions in the islands were consumed in the fire, including, he claims, “a deguarian likeness of my father, uncle Joseph [Smith Jr.] and Brigham Young, a present and priceless to me.”2 After painfully listing all his many losses, he wrote: “Well these dear fiew things is gon[e] and not one saved, and now I am destitute, but with old Jobe exclaim: ‘The Lord givith and the Lord taketh away, blessed be the name of the Lord.’ I am confident that he has and will provide for his servents, so all is well.”

Ricks does not tell us much about those months before Joseph F.’s first surviving diary begins, failing to mention a point made by Joseph F.’s biographer Scott Kenney: “Other missionaries received mail routinely, but for six months, none came for him. Finally a letter arrived from [his cousin, once removed] George A. Smith, the first communication from home since he had arrived.”3 Joseph F. learned Hawaiian very quickly, and Ricks points out the fact—clearly evident in Joseph F.’s diaries—that during his mission “he worked to educate and improve himself,” reading “voraciously in history, philosophy, poetry, the classics, current events, [and] virtually anything he could acquire” (xiv), including light novels. From a negative standpoint, however, he spent an enormous amount of time on this non-missionary activity.

Joseph F. began his mission on Maui where, on July 24, 1855, he was appointed president of the “Maui Conference,” which did not then include the nearby islands ofMoloka’i and Lana’i. In April 1856, he was called to preside over one of the two conferences on Hawai’i and, on his way there on April 17, wrote the following grammatically imperfect but aesthetically sophisticated description of his voyage:

We ware soon left in a compleat callm, the sails flittering and flop-[p]ing at each rock of our appearantly or seemingly deserted and forsaken craft. We ware alone and in silence, the howling of the wind had seased, and and [sic] the swol[l]en wave had sank to its level, and all was still, but now the luminary of midnight had arisen to a considerable highth, its silvery rays shone softly upon the unrippled sea, which threw around us the most loving, and majestic of all sceneries, on our left & right ware the riseing hills of Maui & Lanai towering far above the milky clouds that hung thickly beneath their sum[m]its, and yet a little farther on ware the towering peakes of Maunakea and Maunaloa of Hawaii, with their snowy mantles spread by the hand of nature never to be removed, standing, to defy the tempests of ages gone by and to come, and from it[s] bowels ware belching forth the liquid flames of everlasting torment as is made know by our good and self righteous priests of this progressive and enlightened age.

 Doing missionary work in the Sandwich Islands in the 1850s was no easy task. Utah missionaries generally lived with the natives in thatched huts, ate their exotic food, and constantly complained of being bitten all night by ticks and fleas. For example, for “breckfast” on March 19, 1856, Joseph F. “feasted” on “one potatoe and a little salt, Dinner and supper was the same, I had many strong thoughts, but in a oath thanked the lord for the privelige I then enjoyed.” The next day he reported: “Last night my rest was disturbed by being bit 4 or 5 times by a centipede which had cralled inmy bead [bed]. I sleept no more till morning, (this was about midnight) in the morning attended meeting, and pertook of my breckfast which consisted of one potatoe and salt, as before.” Ricks notes that “Hawaiian centipedes vary in size, color, and potency of sting; the largest can reach twelve inches in length.” (17 note 30)

Even more candidly, Joseph recorded:

I have seen whol[e] families who ware on sallid [solid] mass of scabes, (having the itch[)] and every sti[t]ch, or rag they had about them or on their premisis, ware alive with the itch. I have slept in these circumstances, I have shaken handes with those whos[e] body and hands ware a scab! I have eaten food mixed up like unto batter with such handes. . . . I have slept in places where should my hog sleep my stumache would forbid me eating of it. . . . I have slept with my bretheren on the same mat with those who ware rotten! And stunk with diseas! And I have seen more than this, the fact of it is, this nation is rot[t]en, and stink[s] because of, and with their own wickedness, and but fiew are exceptionable, with but fiew exceptions their hogs, doges and cates and they live together, and I have seen doges particularly besides other animals, completely covered with the itch so that their hair had all left their bodies in a scabe. . . . Once I entered a house where several persons was eating and there was a huge dog [that] stood with his head over the calabash of Poi, his mouth and eyes ware drooling & run[n]ing watter, matter &c. he had some fiew heres [hairs] upon him, but scabes, running sores, some skin, no flesh, bones &c. . . . (July 4, 1856, 40–41)

 The typescript Ricks provides is clearly presented and serviceable, native language words and phrases are helpfully translated, and much useful information is communicated in the footnotes.  He seems to have relied a great deal for these annotations on material in the Joseph F. Smith Papers Collection (LDS Church History Library).4  In footnotes he includes summaries and quotations from almost all of the extensive correspondence Joseph F. received from friends and relatives during the latter part of his mission, although these quotations tend to move the focus of the narrative away from Hawaii and toward Utah.

Ricks sometimes engages in unjustifiable speculations concerning passages in the typescript. For example Joseph F. wrote that he and his companion, Thomas A.Dowell, stayed one night on Moloka’i with “three persons who professed to be mormons.  We had to go to bed with out supper after traveling as we did.  The folks afforded us one old dirty sheet or Kikei to sleep under, my thoughts have been, curious, a long [while?] back.”  Ricks comments: “It is unclear on what Joseph F.’s ‘curious’ thoughts focused. It is possible that he is simply referring to the physical and spiritual degeneracy of the natives, or something completely unrelated. Perhaps this is even a veiled reference to curiosity about sexuality, suggested by the emphasis he places on the phrase and its seeming disjointed [sic] from the previous phrase” (96 and note 8).

The major shortcoming of this work, however, is Ricks’s apparent failure to consult any of the numerous journals being kept by Joseph F.’s fellow missionaries. Thus, his knowledge of mission history oftentimes is inadequate. For example, Joseph F.’s long-term companion on the Big Island of Hawaii was Washington B. Rogers. Ricks is apparently unaware that Rogers, early in his mission, was extremely paranoid, convinced that the native brethren on the east coast of Maui were determined to kill him. This episode occurred while Joseph F. also was on Maui and is thoroughly documented in Francis (“Frank”) Asbury Hammond’s journal.5  Apparently Rogers had moved past this problem when Joseph F. was his companion on Hawaii, however, since he notes only that Rogers was a “somewhat deficient” preacher and lacked proficiency in Hawaiian (June 22, 1856; May 5, 1857; 36, 99).

As a second example, Ricks apparently does not know that the whaleboats which were the main means of travel between Maui, Lana’i, andMoloka’i were also powered by sails (23 notes 1–2).  Third, he states that the Lahainaluna Seminary above Lahaina was a “Methodist-run high school established in 1831.” In fact, the “American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions” had founded the school, and it was primarily “Congregationalist or Calvinist, but open to other denominations.”6

Fourth, Ricks quotes from a letter Henry P. Richards on Maui wrote to Joseph F. complaining of the idleness and disobedience of “these infernal servants of Napela’s.” Ricks suggests that they were “probably native elders” (34–35 note 31); but in addition to being a lawyer, judge, and prominent Mormon convert, Jonathan Napela ran a profitable potato-growing operation at Kula. It seems more likely that Richards was complaining about Napela’s employees.

Fifth, on March 29, 1856, Joseph F. had an angry verbal and physical confrontation with another missionary whom he calls “Bro. Linn,” and “Bro. G. Linn.”  Ricks identifies him as “Elder Gordon Linn” (xxii, notes 14, 18–20, 38), but there was no Utah Mormon missionary in the Sandwich Islands in the 1850s by that name.He actually was Gustaf (or maybe Gustov) Linn (or Lynn), whom Henry Bigler baptized on June 29, 1852, on O’ahu.7  He was an elderly carpenter, married to a native woman, and fluent in Swedish, English, and native Hawaiian. He served a full-time mission on the Big Island of Hawaii with James Keeler and Reddick Allred,8 and worked with other Utah missionaries on Maui and O’ahu.

The confrontation was over a pair of scissors that Linn had loaned to Joseph F. According to Ricks, the lengthy (page and a half) journal entry describing this event (18–19) is all in Joseph F.’s handwriting, though Joseph F. prefaced his description of the altercation by saying “a scene followed that I shall leave for bro. [Simpson] Molen to describe, as he was a spectator.” Ricks speculates that “Molen [Joseph F.’s companion] dictated his version of events to Joseph” (19 note 35). According to this description—which is ambiguous and seemingly very contradictory—Linn asked for his scissors, Joseph F. failed to produce them immediately, Linn became angry, there was a heated verbal exchange, and Linn called him a rude name.  At that point, “Linn drawed up and struck him [Joseph Jr.] with his fist on the temple,” but everything that follows makes it fairly clear that it was Joseph F. who walked over and punched Linn while the latter was sitting down. Linn rubbed his head, complained about Joseph F.’s action, and threatened: “I will try the law for it and see if it well uphold you in imposeing upon another like this. S[mith said] Go ahead and sue me if you wish.” Joseph F. had gotten into several conflicts with other Utah missionaries early in his mission—documented in Hammond’s journal—and clearly had a hot temper. The contradictory, problematic account of the altercation with Linn may be an indication that Joseph F. had an uneasy conscience and attempted to cover up his action.

One of the great values of Joseph F.’s diary is its documentation of the serious decline in the mission, especially in the period covered by his extant journals. On Hawaii as early as the summer of 1856, he noted that “we have been nine days on a stretch with out a morsel of meat, and as poor poi as I could eat!” (42) In 1856 and 1857, many of the Utah elders reported that the native Mormons throughout the mission became increasingly unwilling to feed them.  On February 9, 1857, Joseph F. struggled to provide a just assessment:  “Ware I to speak with Strict verasity I would call this people any thing but Saints, for indeed they are as destitute of that quality as, as the winters’ chilliest Blast is of the destitute of the ardent rais [rays] of a Summers’ Sun! this is strictly true, yet I will admit that some—a precious fiew!—are honest, Kind and hospitable as their limited knowlage, dispositions, vageres [vagaries] and educations will permit, and I do feel to say god Bless that precious fiew!” (79)

Two months later on Moloka’i, Joseph F. found only lapsed Mormons who totally refused to feed him and his companion. Joseph F. exploded wrathfully:

I have ate enough dirt and filth, put up with anough inconveniencies, slept sufficiently in their filth, muck & mire, lice and every thing els[e], I have been ill treated, abused, and trod on by these nefarious ethnicks just long enough. I believe it is no longer a virtue, if they will not treat me as I merit, if they will not obey my testimony—and my counsels, but persist in their wickedness, hard heartedness, and indifference, their lyngins, lyings, decietfulness, and hard hearted cruelty as regards the servents of the lord, I will not stay with them, but leave them to their fait. (April 8, 1857)

To survive, Smith and his companion (Dowell) milked cows for a non-Mormon dairyman in the area, trying unsuccessfully to convert him and a few other whites. Joseph F. then ended his mission at the City of Joseph on Lana’i, where he spent most of his time reading books and writing letters. When he left the islands on October 6, 1857, Brigham Young (only in part, one could argue, because of the Utah War) was closing down the mission.

Ricks offers four reasons for the mission’s serious decline after 1854. First, “inexperienced” converts were given leadership responsibilities; second, as already noted, the demands of supporting the missionaries were a heavy drain on members’ resources; third, “cultural schisms” alienated the members from “the Anglo missionaries”; and fourth, the “Protestant community” experienced “growing anti-Mormon sentiment” (3). In fact, Protestant missionaries had been working vigorously against the Mormons since 1851.

Ricks’s first reason—inexperienced local leaders—was less of a problem than traditional Hawaiian sexual promiscuity and missionary inconsistency in dealing with it. Native Elders Jonathan Napela, J. W. H. Kauwahi, and William H. Uaua committed adultery quite regularly, felt great remorse, and were quickly “forgiven” by the Utah elders (who often excommunicated less important native sexual transgressors), because these Hawaiian leaders were crucial to the success of the Mormon effort.  While exploiting the social position and affluence of these native Mormon luminaries, the Utah elders patronizingly referred to native priesthood holders in general as “children” and seldom included them in mission decisions. This exclusion certainly led directly to “cultural schisms,” and in fact the native brethren angrily “revolted” at the mission conference on Lana’i in late July 1855, though Ricks does not mention it. Their protest was summarily quashed.9

As for the financial burden imposed by the missionaries, the mission was required to be self-sustaining, and the missionaries themselves were certainly poor. However, the native Saints resented pressures to pay for the translation of the Book of Mormon and George Q. Cannon’s pamphlet in Hawaiian promoting it, but they more deeply resented Brigham Young’s order to move what had started out as the “Hawaiian Mission press” (purchased with money principally supplied by the native Saints) to San Francisco where it was employed mostly in publishing the Mormon Western Standard in English. The native Saints also sacrificed substantially to underwrite Elder Nathan Tanner’s scheme to buy a “mission vessel” in San Francisco (a financial failure) followed by the badly constructed sloop Lanai, also a total failure. Furthermore, the missionaries usually took for granted the native Saints’ efforts to provide food, lodging, and laundry services. The elders virtually never washed their own clothes and would go to great lengths to get native women to do it for them.

A further source of disillusionment, not noted by Ricks, was the failed attempt to “gather” all of the native Saints to Palawai on Lanai. Such a move violated the deep-seated commitment of natives to their specific island and traditional village. My great-great-grandfather Frank Hammond was the primary mover in this attempt to create what the native convert “pioneers” on Lana’i took to calling “Zion 2” (“Zion 1” being Utah), and he compounded the problem by attempting to force them to live a radical version of the communitarian Mormon law of consecration. Other major negative factors in the decline of the mission, which Ricks does not mention, were the public announcement in 1852 that polygamy was Mormon Church policy and the failure of priesthood administrations to protect the Oahu and East Maui Saints from a terrible smallpox epidemic in 1853. These many negative factors led to the publicly proclaimed apostasy in late 1856 of the highly influential Elders Kauwahi and, for a time, Uaua. At about the same time, Utah Mormon missionary John Hyde Jr. immediately apostatized upon reaching Honolulu and, enthusiastically aided by Protestant missionaries, dramatically aired his views in public meetings, newspaper articles, and a pamphlet. Ricks provides useful information regarding these sensational events. In his diary, Joseph F. acknowledged that these developments profoundly troubled the native Saints, caused many of them to drop away, and made others less willing to provide food and laundry services for the Utah elders. He recorded spending most of Sunday, February 25, 1857, in “partially . . . removing the load of cankering doubt resting upon the minds of the people, because of the reasent attempts of Hyde and Kauwahi to thwart Mormonism, and anihiliate its propogaters” (81).

It is clear in Joseph F.’s journal that he became increasingly contemptuous of the native Hawaiian people in general during the mission’s decline in 1856 and 1857. In 1864 at age twenty-five, he returned to Hawaii as part of a high-level Church delegation assigned to deal with the problems created by Walter Murray Gibson; and although Brigham Young invited him to remain and assist in re-opening and re-building the mission, he declined.  The next time he returned to Hawaii was in the 1880s to avoid arrest for unlawful cohabitation in Utah.

My criticisms of this edition aside, the book has many positive features, and historians owe Nathan Ricks a debt of gratitude for making much more accessible the mission diaries of Joseph F. Smith, who, despite his extreme youth, was a perceptive and powerful figure in the early Hawaiian Mission and LDS Church.


1. See, for example, Phillip B. Lewis, president of the Sandwich Islands Mission, Letter to the First Presidency, March 6, 1853, in Manuscript History of the Hawaiian Mission; and Phillip B. Lewis, Letter to Parley P. Pratt, March 19, 1853, MS 2248, both in LDS Church History Library.

2. Joseph F., Journal, June 26, 1856, 37–39. Ricks notes: “Were this truly a daguerreotype, it was certainly one of a kind and most definitely invaluable. . . . [N]o verified daguerreotypes of Mormonism’s founder or of his brother Hyrum are known to have survived” (39 note 43).

3. Scott G. Kenney, “Before the Beard: Trials of the Young Joseph F. Smith,” Sunstone, Issue 120 (November 2001): 25.

4. He identifies these documents as being in Richard E. Turley Jr., ed., Selected Collections from the Archives of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2 vols., DVD (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, [December 2002] (viii note 3).

5. Francis A. Hammond, Journal, December 21–23, 1854, – January 12, 1855. The nine-volume holograph diary of Hammond’s Hawaiian Mission is in the LDS Church History Library, Salt Lake City. Several years ago, I made typescripts of this journal and donated copies to the LDS Church History Library and to libraries at the University of Utah, BYU–Provo, BYU–Hawaii, the Utah State Historical Society, and the Maui Historical Society at Wailuku, Maui.

6. Nicole McMullen, executive director of the Bailey House Museum, Maui Historical Society, Wailuku, Maui, email to John J Hammond, July 29, 2011.

7. William Farrar, Journal, March 29, April 2, and July 3, 1852, MSS 1521, holograph and typescript, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah.

8. James Keeler, Journal, March 11–25, 1854, MSS 834, fd. 3, Perry Special Collections, copy of holograph in my possession; Reddin A. Allred, Journal, July 26, 1854, Daughters of Utah Pioneers Museum (Salt Lake City) typescript. Allred calls him “Gustaf Linn.”

9. Hammond, Journal, July 23–24, 1855; see also John StillmanWoodbury, Diary, July 23–24, 1855, holograph and typescript, MSS 168, Box 1, fd. 13, Perry Special Collections.