Lydia Goldthwaite was born on June 9, 1812, in Sutton, Massachusetts. Lydia was the third of twelve children born to the Goldthwaites during their time in Massachusetts and later New York. In the fall of 1828 Lydia married Calvin Bailey, with whom she would have two children, Roseanna, and Edwin. After the birth of Edwin, her husband Calvin abandoned her. Both of ther children by Calvin died young – Edwin at birth, and Roseanna about a year after Calvin abandoned the family.
Shortly after Roseanna’s death, Lydia went to live in Mount Pleasant, Canada. In late 1833 word reached the area of the Book of Mormon and the Restoration of Christ’s church. Lydia’s biographer, Susa Young Gates, described Lydia’s reaction upon first seeing the Prophet Joseph, an encounter that would change the course of her life: “She saw a tall, well-built form, with the carriage of an Apollo, brown hair, handsome blue eyes, which seemed to dive down to the innermost thoughts with their sharp, penetrating gaze, a striking countenance, and with manners at once majestic yet gentle, dignified yet exceedingly pleasant.” When she heard him speak, Lydia saw “his face become white and a shining glow seemed to beam from every feature.” 1
Lydia and several others were baptized a few days later. Joseph Smith later met with Lydia and blessed her: “Sister Lydia, great are your blessings. The Lord, your Savior, loves you, and will overrule all your past sorrows and afflictions for good unto you. Let your heart be comforted. You are of the blood of Israel descended through the loins of Ephraim. You shall yet be a savior to your father’s house. Therefore be comforted, and let your heart rejoice, for the Lord has a great work for you to do. Be faithful and endure unto the end and all will be well.” This young woman, abandoned by her husband, having lost both her children at a young age, and away from her family, received a promise from a prophet that the Lord would “overrule all your past sorrows and afflictions,” a message that echoed with Lydia throughout the remainder of her life.
Later Lydia gathered with the Saints to Kirtland, Ohio. When she arrived, all she had was $50 she had managed to save. Hearing that the Prophet Joseph Smith was a prisoner, she unhesitatingly donated all her money toward his release. It is in Kirtland, Ohio that Lydia met Newel Knight. The two are married on November 23, 1835 by Joseph Smith, the first couple that are married by Joseph. Lydia and Newel moved to Missouri, and are cast out by mobs by 1839.
After Lydia is miraculously healed from malaria in Nauvoo, the Prophet Joseph Smith helped her heal her malaria-afflicted son. Though many Saints counseled her to give up and let the child pass away, she was determined. “I cannot let him go,” she said, “because I feel it is not the Lord’s will that I should part with him.”
She called in the Prophet, and after hearing what she had to say he said, “Take some warm water and soap; wash your child from the crown of his head to the soles of his feet.” Then Brother Harris was to anoint the child with consecrated oil.
Lydia followed the Prophet’s instructions. At first the child seemed to improve; then he took a turn for the worse. Lydia might have given up then—after all, the Prophet had only said, “I think your child will live.” But she didn’t give up. Instead she repeated the entire process, and the boy was completely restored to health.
The Lord’s blessings during these hard times were a great help to Lydia when, during the trek west, her greatest trial came. Well out into Indian country in the winter of 1847, her beloved husband Newel Knight became ill, probably with pneumonia. 3 He finally said, “Lydia, it is necessary for me to go. Joseph wants me. Don’t grieve too much, for you will be protected.”
After her beloved Newell’s death, Lydia struggled under the burden of getting her young family prepared to cross the plains to the Salt Lake Valley. In distress she cried, “Oh Newel, why hast thou left me!” At that moment, Newel returned from the world of spirits to comfort her saying:
Be calm, let not sorrow overcome you. It was necessary that I should go. I was needed behind the vail to represent the true condition of this camp and people. You cannot fully comprehend it now; but the time will come when you shall know why I left you and our little ones. Therefore, dry up your tears. Be patient, I will go before you and protect you in your journeying. And you and your little ones shall never perish for lack of food. Although the ravens of the valley shoudl feed you and your littles ones you shall not perish for the want of bread. 4
His statement was sealed when “there appeared three ravens” next to Lydia. Her husband departed, and Lydia’s faith was strengthened.
Without Newel, Lydia was unable to travel quickly, but the promise given to her was a continuous source of strength. Of that experience she wrote:
I felt I must make every possible effort to go to the valley the home of the Saints but what should I do or where to begin I did not know. I told the Lord all my trouble and asked him to give me wisdom and open up the way for I felt the time had come and I must go.
I managed to get one wagon fitted up form what was left of the two I had let go. I was lucky in selling my little place so I go a little towards my fit out … I laid in provisions all I could and the necessary things and called my fit out complete although many would not have thought it a fit out at all for such a family and journey but I had done the best I could and trusted in God. 5
From 1847 to 1849 she lived first at the Ponca Indian camp outside Winter Quarters and then in Kanesville, Iowa. On October 3, 1850, more than four years after she left Nauvoo, Lydia Knight reached Salt Lake City.
In 1883, looking back over the many miracles that she had witnessed, Lydia said, “Here I will say in all the scenes of sickness and hard times the prophets words have been fulfilled. My children all lived to be men and women.” Knight family biographer William G. Hartley notes that the promises made to Lydia held fast: eight children raised to adulthood, and from those eight children would spring up eighty descendants before Lydia’s death in 1884 – and many more since. 6
She served as a temple worker in the St. George Temple almost until her death in April 1884. There in the temple, where eternity seems only a footstep away, she looked forward to returning to live with her beloved Newel, the man to whom she had been given for eternity.
1. Knight and Gates, Lydia Knight’s History, p. 17-18
2. ibid., p. 22-23
3. Hartley, Stand by My Servant Joseph, p. 424.
4. Knight and Gates, Lydia Knights History, p. 72.
5. Lydia Knight to Susa Young Gates, see Turley and Chapman, Women of Faith in the Latter days, volume 1, p. 151.
6. Hartley, Stand by My Servant Joseph, p. 494.