Charlotte Smart Parkinson: A Short Biography

"I thought you needed me, so I've come to help." With these quiet reassuring words, mother would make her entrance. A few days or weeks later, when the crisis had passed and the equilibrium of the household had been regained, she would suddenly be gone. But the memories of her reassuring presence, her nursing skill, the meals cooked, the house kept and, most of all, her faith---these did not leave.

Charlotte Smart Parkinson was born on November 6, 1849, in St. Louis, Missouri. Her father was Thomas Sharrett Smart, her mother, Ann Hayter Smart. She was christened Charlotte Elisabeth.

Though both were English, her mother and father met and were married in France. Her father was a brickmaker and had gone to France to supervise a brick factory. Her mother had married a Mr. Henry Fleet, a schoolteacher, who went to France to teach. It was an unhappy marriage which ended in divorce. Charlotte's mother had three daughters by Mr. Fleet. Charlotte was the first of seven children she bore Mr. Smart.

The Napoleonic wars had ended. During the subsequent reigns of Henry X and Louis Philippe, economic and political turmoil prompted the Smarts to leave France and accept the challenge of life in that raw, young republic, the United States of America. They arrived in the city of St. Louis in 1845. Four years later Charlotte was born.

Mr. Smart rented a farm, at the same time beginning a tannery and a brick business. One of his farm workers belonged to an odd new religion which claimed a modern-day prophet as leader. They called themselves "Mormons." Out of curiosity, Mr. Smart investigated, liked what he heard and, after Mrs. Smart had reached a similar level of conviction, they were baptized members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints which, they learned, was the proper name of the "Mormons." This was in the Summer of 1851. Their new faith was dearly bought when one considers the direction and shape their lives were to take as a result of it.

Spring of 1852 was awakening the countryside. During the Winter the Mormons in St. Louis had talked of little else but joining the main body of "Saints" who, having been driven from their homes in Nauvoo, Illinois, had sought refuge in the Utah territory, in the fastness of the Rocky Mountains. All who were able to do so were instructed by the leadership of the Church to come. After several family councils and much prayer, Thomas Smart, his wife Ann and their five children, ranging in ages from one and a half to ten years, decided to join a small company leaving St. Louis that Spring. They gathered their possessions, converted what monies they had into supplies, a wagon and oxen and prepared to leave. There were seventeen wagons in all, and twenty families. Charlotte was three and a half years old.

The great trek began April 8, 1852. Day after bone bruising day the wagons creaked across the vast plains of America's mid-section. The days of heat and dust mixed with those of rain and mud. Each stream to be forded threatened the catastrophic loss of a family's entire possessions. And, always there was the fear of sickness, of a wagon breakdown and Indians.

For five months Charlotte rode in the wagon with her mother and sisters until they could take no more of the jouncing, then they would walk until they were too tired to walk further. The wagon train averaged eleven miles per day and, before making the final descent into the Salt Lake valley, had traveled slightly more than thirteen hundred miles. Charlotte was too young to fully understand where they were going, or why. But, from the conversation of her parents, their family prayers and the night and morning prayers of the entire wagon train, she sensed it was something very important which required the help of God to successfully accomplish. Thus was laid the foundation of her great faith.

After a few weeks' rest in Salt Lake, during which time Brother and Sister Smart met Brigham Young and other Church leaders, they headed South approximately thirty miles to the recently established village of American Fork, For lack of other accommodations, they endured the Winter in the wagon a tent pitched alongside. The following year, Brother Smart took his family ten miles further South to the town of Provo, where he was asked to operate a new brick factory. While in Provo, Charlotte reached her eighth birthday and was baptized.

In 1860, when Charlotte was eleven years of age, the Smarts moved again, this time to Cache Valley, on the Utah-Idaho border. Here, Brother Smart, together with Samuel Rose Parkinson and a Brother Sanderson, were set apart as "Presiding Elders" and sent North with fifty families to colonize what was to be known as Franklin, Idaho, the first white community in the state of Idaho.

Charlotte grew up at the wrong time and in the wrong place to gain much formal education. But, she had a quick, practical mind. She learned to read, she was accurate with figures, wrote economically and became an excellent speller. In addition, she learned the many skills of a frontier woman. She was a fine seamstress. She carded wool, spun it and made good serviceable sweaters and stockings. She could milk a cow, make a bar of soap, and make a quilt or dress a chicken. Her bread was highly regarded by family and neighbors. No count could be made of the number of loaves she sent into the homes of those "needing a hand."

The pattern of Mormon "socials" began to emerge as Branches, then Wards were organized and a favorite pastime was dancing. Charlotte excelled at it! She was of medium height and build, five feet four inches tall and one hundred and thirty pounds. Her hazel eyes responded quickly to her moods. Her smooth complexion was framed by a luxuriant growth of black hair. She was not a beautiful girl, but as she lived life and her face mirrored her honest, straightforward reactions to its trials, she became an arrestingly attractive woman. She carried herself erectly and moved quickly, with much grace. She had a natural sense of style and always dressed in good taste.

She showed a delightful touch of feminine vanity in her refusal to wear anything that might appear as "old lady comforts." She continually urged her daughters to keep up with the times. Her ability to "think young" made her a favorite with her grandchildren.

When Charlotte was one month past her seventeenth birthday she married Samuel Rose Parkinson. Elder Parkinson, though only thirty two years of age, was a leading figure in the valley. As previously noted, he came to Franklin as one of the original colonizers, along with Charlotte's father. He became a successful farmer and rancher. He built a dry goods store which, at the Church's request he turned into a cooperative venture. He owned and operated a successful woolen mill. He was a school trustee and a "minute man" guardian against Indian uprisings. He bought and operated the first threshing machine in the area. And, he was a member of the first Bishopric of Franklin.

Obviously, as the girls of a later generation would say, Brother Parkinson was "quite a catch." There was, however, one unsettling element in the picture: Brother Parkinson was already married and had been for ten years and had no intention of forsaking his wife and their eight children!

Both Charlotte and her father were aware of Brother Parkinson's prospering first marriage. However, in faith and conformity with the Church doctrine advocating polygamous marriages for those deemed morally worthy and financially able to support more than one family, Charlotte's father agreed to the marriage and Charlotte accepted Brother Parkinson's proposal. One stipulation was made—that being that a courtship of sorts should be carried forward for the period of one year, in the form of dancing at socials and being together, usually in the company of others, at Church affairs.

Charlotte married Samuel Rose Parkinson on December 8, 1866. By modern standards, their marriage had little to recommend its success. Samuel was fifteen years her senior. He was already married. She, still a young girl, was asked to share the attentions and affections of her betrothed with another wife. And, two years later the sacrifice would be further increased when still a third wife would share his provender and companionship—this time, her younger sister, Maria. And yet, Charlotte built a happy successful marriage. She proved to be a competent business adviser and maintained a lively interest in her husband's affairs. She bore him ten children who, in order of their birth, were Ann, Lucy, Joseph, Fredrick, Leona, Bertha, Eva, Hazel, Nettie and Vivian. Each of her children was married in the temple.

Having faced the stresses of a polygamous marriage, Charlotte's counsel to her children carried much weight. She urged them to "do right" by their partners. In this and other attitudes she gained the love and respect of her sons and daughters-in-law.

Charlotte lived polygamy in spirit as well as in deed. She was always solicitous of the other wives' needs. During sickness in one of their homes, she was ever there to nurse and comfort, day or night. For example, during a small pox epidemic, she left her own family of small children to help out in the homes of the other wives and relatives. When death struck among their children, she stayed to prepare them for burial—with never a question to her own safety.

Charlotte was devoted to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. She lived the Word of Wisdom, paid an honest tithe and reared an honorable family. She supported and sustained her husband in the priesthood. Her church service was mostly devoted to genealogical research and temple work. She labored twenty years in the Logan and Salt Lake Temples, doing vicarious work of over six hundred of her ancestors. Her greatest contribution to her church and her God was in simply and quietly living the first and great commandment. She loved and served her fellow man.

While working in the Temple, she suffered a stroke which, two years later, resulted in her death. She died on June 14, 1929, in Logan, Utah at the home of her daughter, Ann. Her brother, William, speaking at her funeral said that Charlotte was always forgiving. She found no delight in anything low or unclean. She was a peacemaker in her parent's home, in her own, those of her husband's other wives and in the homes of her children.

Often she deprived herself of her husband's rightful company in order to bring more peace and happiness to a sister wife.

Charlotte Smart Parkinson lived an eventful seventy nine years. Her life spanned an epochal period both in church and secular history. It can accurately be said that Charlotte was an active contributor to the times and in the places in which she lived.

The original material for this biography was compiled by Charlotte's daughter, Vivian Parkinson Taylor, and granddaughter Deanne Taylor Harrison, and was re-written by Vivian's son, Lester Parkinson Taylor.