Joseph Smith

Joseph Smith books and biography

Joseph Smith

Joseph Smith, Jr.
Born December 23, 1805
Birth-place Sharon, Vermont
Died June 27, 1844
Death-place Carthage, Illinois
Latter Day Saint movement
Church Est. April 6, 1830
Successor disputed

This article is part of the series
Joseph Smith, Jr.

1805 to 1827 - 1827 to 1830
1831 to 1834 - 1835 to 1838
1838 to 1842 - 1842 to 1844
Death - Polygamy - Teachings
Prophecies - Bibliography

Part of a series on the
Latter-day Saint Movement
Latter-day Saint movement

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Mormonism and Christianity

Movement history
Church of Christ Succession crisis
LDS Church history
Community of Christ history
Latter-day Saint texts
Book of Mormon Book of Commandments
Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible
Doctrine & Covenants Book of Abraham
Pearl of Great Price Book of the Law of the Lord
Significant leaders
Joseph Smith, Jr. Oliver Cowdery
Sidney Rigdon Brigham Young
Joseph Smith III James Strang
Unique beliefs
Views on Godhead Views on Jesus
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Mormonism and Judaism Temples
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Joseph Smith, Jr. (December 23, 1805 – June 27, 1844) was an American religious leader who founded the Latter Day Saint movement, a restorationist movement giving rise to Mormonism. Smith's followers declared him to be the first latter-day prophet, whose mission was to restore the original Christianity, said to have been lost after a Great Apostasy. This restoration included publication of the Book of Mormon and other new scripture to supplement the Bible, and the establishment of the Church of Christ. As leader of his religion, he was also an important political and military leader in the American West.

Although Smith's early Christian restorationist teachings were similar in many ways to other movements of his time, Smith was and remains a controversial and polarizing figure, both because of his collection of religious and social innovations, and as a result of his large and devoted following, which has continued to grow to the present day.

Adherents to denominations originating from Joseph Smith's teachings currently number between thirteen and fourteen million followers. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the largest denomination, claiming to have approximately 12.5 million members.[1] The second largest is the Community of Christ, or The Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, with about 250,000 members. Other Latter Day Saint denominations have membership numbering from tens to the tens of thousands.[citation needed]



Early life from 1805 to 1827

Main article: Early life of Joseph Smith, Jr.

Joseph Smith, Jr. was born on December 23, 1805, in Sharon, Vermont to Joseph Smith, Sr. and Lucy Mack Smith. After Smith's birth, the family fell upon hard times and moved to western New York, where they began working a farm just outside the border of the town of Palmyra. Palmyra was an area of intense revivalism and religious diversity during the Second Great Awakening. Smith's involvement with any particular organized religion was limited. Nevertheless, like most American Christians of the 1820s, he was highly influenced by religious ideas and folk religion, and he believed in visions and the appearance of angels.

In autobiographical accounts of his life, Smith said that during his adolescence Smith said he had a number of visions, including a theophany in his early teens, referred to by Latter Day Saint adherents as the First Vision. He was also part of a company who attempted to find buried treasure in various areas of western New York by means of divination. Smith was recognized in Palmyra and elsewhere for his crystal gazing, which brought him both positive and negative notoriety. He met his wife Emma Hale Smith during a treasure-hunting expedition in Harmony, Pennsylvania (now Oakland), and the couple eloped in 1827.

Smith said that from 1823 to 1827, he had been in communication with an angel named Moroni, who was guarding a book of Golden Plates and other artifacts in a hill near his home. On September 22, 1827, Smith said the angel had finally allowed him to take the plates and other artifacts. According to Smith, the angel told him to translate and publish the book of plates, but commanded him not to show the plates to anyone until Smith was directed otherwise.

1827 to 1830

Main article: Life of Joseph Smith, Jr. from 1827 to 1830

To escape some unhappy members of Smith's former treasure-hunting company, Smith and his wife moved to Harmony, Pennsylvania, with the monetary and moral support of a wealthy Palmyra neighbor named Martin Harris. In Harmony, Smith wrote what he said were transcribed characters from the plates, and sent them with Harris to several renowned scholars, who refused or were unable to provide Smith with backing for the work of translation. Then Harris acted as scribe while Smith dictated what he said was the translation, divined by looking at seer stones, including a set of large crystal spectacles Smith said were buried with the Golden Plates.

In June 1828, Smith allowed Harris to take 116 pages of uncopied manuscript to Palmyra to show Harris' wife, a skeptic. Smith became despondent, however, as the manuscript was lost at about the time Emma gave birth to a stillborn son, their first. Smith ceased, until about February 1829, when he began sporadically translating with Emma as scribe. Translation greatly intensified on April 7, 1829, when a Smith family associate named Oliver Cowdery began acting as scribe.

At the beginning of June 1829, Smith and Cowdery moved to Fayette, New York for the remainder of the translation, where the plates' title page indicated the book was to be entitled the Book of Mormon: An account written by the hand of Mormon, upon plates taken from the Plates of Nephi (

1831 to 1834

The church had more than doubled in size following the conversion of Sidney Rigdon, a former Campbellite minister in September 1830. Rigdon led several congregations of Restorationists in Ohio's Western Reserve area, and hundreds of his adherents followed him into Mormonism. Rigdon was soon called to be Smith's spokesman and immediately became one of the movement's leaders.

To avoid conflict encountered in New York and Pennsylvania, Smith moved with his family to Kirtland, Ohio early in 1831 in the midst of Ridgon's followers (which numbered almost double the members in New York and Pennsylvania). The church's headquarters was established there, and Smith urged the rest of the membership to gather there, or to a second outpost of the church in Missouri. However, due to the controversy which followed him, he was not to escape persecution for long.[citation needed]

In early 1832, opposition took a violent turn. On Saturday, March 24, Joseph was dragged from his bedroom in the dead of night. His attackers strangled him until he blacked out, tore off his shirt and drawers, beat and scratched him, and jammed a vial of poison against his teeth until it broke. After tarring and feathering his body, they left him for dead. Joseph limped back to the Johnsons' house and cried out for a blanket. Through the night, his friends scraped off the tar until his flesh was raw.

—Richard Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling, p. 178.

According to recorded accounts of the event, the mob broke down the front door, took Smith's oldest surviving adopted child from his arms ([2]

1835 to 1838

Main article: Life of Joseph Smith, Jr. from 1835 to 1838

Under Smith's leadership & direction, the church's first temple was constructed in Kirtland. The work of building the Kirtland Temple was begun in 1833, and was completed by 1836. Around the time of its completion, many extraordinary events were reported: appearances by Jesus, Moses, Elijah, Elias, and numerous angels, speaking and singing in tongues, prophesying, and other spiritual experiences. Some Mormons believed that Jesus' Millennial reign had begun.

By mid to late 1837, many Latter Day Saints, including many prominent leaders, became disaffected in the wake of the Kirtland Safety Society banking debacle, in which Smith and some associates were accused of various illegal or unethical banking actions when the bank collapsed after one month of operation and three months prior to a nation-wide banking crisis. [3]

In the meantime, opposition and harassment grew against Smith and those who supported him. On January 12, 1838 Smith and Rigdon left Kirtland for Far West in Caldwell County, Missouri, in Smith's words, "to escape mob violence, which was about to burst upon us under the color of legal process to cover the hellish designs of our enemies." At the time there were at least $6100 in civil suits outstanding against him in Chardon, Ohio courts, and an arrest warrant had been issued for Smith on a charge of bank fraud.[4] Those who continued to support Smith left Kirtland for Missouri shortly thereafter.

Smith reported early revelations that identified western Missouri as Zion, the place for Mormons to gather in preparation for the second coming of Jesus Christ. Independence, Missouri, was identified as "the center place" [5] and the spot for building a temple. Smith first visited Independence in the summer of 1831, and a site was dedicated for the construction of the temple. Soon afterward, Mormon converts—most of them from the New England area—began immigrating in large numbers to Independence and the surrounding area.

The Missouri period was marked by many instances of violent conflict and legal difficulties for Smith and his followers. The Mormons and Non-Mormons in Missouri were, in general, fundamentally very different people:

  • Local leaders and residents saw the Latter Day Saint community as a threat to their lives, property and civil rights. The tension was further fueled by the Mormon belief that Jackson County, Missouri, and the surrounding lands were promised to the Church by God.
  • The 'Latter Day Saints' began migrating to Missouri after Smith stated that Missouri would be the future area of the New Jerusalem. They simultaneously resided in the Kirtland area, as well as the Independence area for around seven years. After Mormon leadership had been forced out of Kirtland in 1838, the 'saints' from Kirtland went to Missouri, increasing the number of 'Latter Day Saints' there and confirming the worst fears of the local leaders and residents of the Mormon threat.
Painting of Liberty Jail, where Smith was held for several months.
Painting of Liberty Jail, where Smith was held for several months.

Later in 1838, many non-Mormon residents of Missouri, and the LDS settlers began and engaged in an ongoing conflict often referred to as the Mormon War. After several skirmishes, the Battle of Crooked River (which involved Missouri state militia troops and a group of Latter Day Saints) occurred.[6] Many exaggerated reports of this battle (some claimed that half of the militia's men had been lost, when in fact they had suffered only one casualty), as well as affidavits by ex-Mormons that Mormons were planning to burn both Liberty and Richmond, Missouri, made their way to Missouri Governor Lilburn Boggs.

Boggs issued an executive order in response on 27 October 1838, known as the "Extermination Order". It stated that the Mormon community had "made war upon the people of this State" and that "the Mormons must be treated as enemies, and must be exterminated or driven from the State if necessary for the public peace" [7][8] The Extermination Order was not officially rescinded until 1976 by Governor Christopher S. Bond.

Soon afterward, the 2,500 troops from the state militia converged on the Mormon headquarters at Far West. Smith and several other Church leaders surrendered to state authorities on charges of treason and murder. They were held at Liberty Jail, and spent several months in captivity. They were later transferred to a jail in Columbia, Missouri.

The legality of Boggs' "Extermination Order" was debated in the legislature, but its objectives were achieved. Most of the Mormon community in Missouri had either left or been forced out by the spring of 1839.

1838 to 1842

Main article: Life of Joseph Smith, Jr. from 1838 to 1842
Profile of Joseph Smith, Jr. (circa 1843) by Bathsheba W. Smith, first wife of George A. Smith.
Profile of Joseph Smith, Jr. (circa 1843) by Bathsheba W. Smith, first wife of George A. Smith.

After escaping Missouri in 1839, Smith and his followers regrouped. They established a new headquarters in a town on the banks of the Mississippi River, called Commerce, in Hancock County, Illinois, which they renamed Nauvoo. They were granted a charter by the state of Illinois, and Nauvoo was quickly built up by the faithful, including many new arrivals. The Nauvoo city charter authorized independent municipal courts, the foundation of a university and the establishment of a militia unit known as the "Nauvoo Legion." These and other institutions gave the 'Latter Day Saints' a considerable degree of autonomy.

In October 1839, Smith and others left for Washington, D.C. to meet with Martin Van Buren, then the President of the United States. Smith and his delegation sought redress for the persecution and loss of property suffered by the 'Latter Day Saints' in Missouri. Van Buren told Smith, "Your cause is just, but I can do nothing for you. If I take up for you I shall lose the vote of Missouri."[9]

Construction of a new temple in Nauvoo began in the autumn of 1840, and was significantly larger and more grandiose than the one left behind in Kirtland. The cornerstones were laid during a conference on April 6, 1841. Although Smith was instrumental in its completion, it was not finished for more than five years - after Smith's death. It was dedicated on May 1, 1846. Approximately four months afterward, Nauvoo was abandoned by the majority of its citizens under threats of mob action.

1842 to 1844

Main article: Life of Joseph Smith, Jr. from 1838 to 1842

Smith was introduced to Masonry (possibly by John C. Bennett[citation needed]); on March 15, 1842, he was initiated as a Freemason, as an [citation needed] Masonic meetings.

In Nauvoo, Smith taught many new doctrines, which differed significantly from mainstream Christianity. This includes some of his more controversial doctrines, including (but not limited to) Baptism for the dead, the Nauvoo-era Endowment[10], and plural marriage[11], a form of polygamy.

In February, 1844, Smith announced his candidacy for President of the United States, with Sidney Rigdon as his vice-presidential running mate.


Main article: Death of Joseph Smith, Jr.
An etching of the Carthage Jail, c. 1885, where Smith was killed in 1844.
An etching of the Carthage Jail, c. 1885, where Smith was killed in 1844.

Several of Smith's disaffected associates in Nauvoo joined together to publish a newspaper called the Nauvoo Expositor. Its first and only issue was published 7 June 1844. The paper was highly antagonistic towards Smith, expounding many beliefs critical of him, and outlining several grievances against him.

The publication of this material disturbed many of Nauvoo's citizens, and the city council, headed by Joseph Smith as a mayor, responded by passing an ordinance declaring the newspaper a public nuisance designed to promote violence against Smith and his followers [12]. Under the council's new ordinance, Smith, as Nauvoo's mayor, in conjunction with the city council, ordered the city marshal to destroy the paper and the press on June 10, 1844.[13]

This action was seen by many non-Mormons as illegal and Smith was accused of violating freedom of the press. Violent threats were made against Smith and the Mormon community. Charges were brought against Smith and he submitted to incarceration in Carthage, the Hancock County seat. Smith's brother, Hyrum, and eight of his associates including John Taylor and Willard Richards, accompanied him to the jail.[14] The Governor of the state, Thomas Ford, had promised protection and a fair trial.[15] All of Smith's associates left the jail, except Richards and Taylor. Those in jail were not held in the 1st floor jail cell because the jailer felt that that was unsafe, instead, they were held in the jailer's room on the 2nd floor.

Shortly after 5:00 p.m. on 27 June 1844, a mob of about 200 men stormed the jail, and went to where Joseph and his associates were imprisoned. Although they attempted to hold the doorway against the mob, the mobbers opened fire through the still-closed door. Joseph Smith had a six shooter and reportedly killed two members of the mob. Hyrum Smith died immediately, shot in the face. Taylor was shot several times, but survived. Richards was unharmed. Smith ran to the open window, where he was shot multiple times simultaneously, and fell from the window, dead. Upon falling to the ground, he was shot several more times.[16]

Marriage and Family

Emma Hale Smith, Joseph's first wife, whom he married in 1827.

Emma Hale and her future husband, Joseph Smith, Jr. met in 1825 when Smith boarded with the Hales while he was employed in a company of men hoping to unearth buried treasure. Although the company found no treasure, Smith returned to Harmony several times seeking Emma's hand. Isaac Hale, Emma's father, initially refused to allow the marriage, so the couple eloped across the state line to South Bainbridge, New York and were married on 18 January 1827. The couple initially moved to the home of Smith's parents on the edge of Manchester Township near Palmyra.

During the early portion of their marriage, Joseph and Emma Smith had the following children:

  • June 15, 1828, Alvin, who lived only a few hours.
  • April 30, 1831, twins, Thaddeus and Louisa, who died hours after their premature birth while their Father was being tarred and feathered and left for dead by a mob.
  • April 30, 1831, twins Joseph and Julia. These were the children of Julia Clapp Murdock and John Murdock. Murdock, upon his wife's death in childbirth, gave the infants to the Smiths (who had just lost their own twins) who adopted them.

The couple later had four additional sons:

  • November 6, 1832, Joseph Smith III
  • June 29, 1836, Frederick Granger Williams Smith
  • June 2, 1838, Alexander Hale Smith.
  • November 17, 1844, David Hyrum Smith, born after Joseph's death.

It is well established that Joseph Smith, Jr. was married to other women after Emma. In some of these cases evidence exists that he was sealed to other women in spiritual marriage ceremonies. A few of the sealings actually took place by proxy after Joseph Smith Jr's death in 1844. However significant evidence, including letters and statements by these plural wives, indicates that several of the marriages were in fact consummated.[17]

The Family History Department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints website contains Joseph Smith Jr's individual record, which details twenty-four of these marriages.

See also: Joseph Smith, Jr. and Polygamy

Major teachings

Main article: Teachings of Joseph Smith, Jr.

During his adult life - from the time he began dictating the Book of Mormon in 1827 until his death in 1844 - Smith introduced a large number of religious teachings. Although a number of his teachings are similar to doctrines circulating during his lifetime, several are unique to Smith.

Nearly all Smith's teachings had some root in the King James Version of the Bible, or his interpretation or elaboration of it. However, he believed in other scripture, and that in some instances, the Bible was translated incorrectly.[18] Thus, he "restored" temples, orders of priesthood, and other elements of the Bible that he felt had been wrongly abandoned by mainstream Christianity as part of a Great Apostasy.

In many cases, Smith's doctrines or interpretations of the Bible, as well as his own claimed revelations, placed him at odds with mainstream Christianity. For example, Smith rejected mainstream Christianity's long-standing formulation of the Trinity as recorded in the 4th Century Nicene Creed.


Immediate reaction

Smith's death created a crisis for the Latter Day Saints. Their charismatic founder was dead and their hierarchy was scattered on missionary efforts and in support of Smith's presidential campaign. Brigham Young recorded in his journal his initial concern after Smith's murder: "The first thing which I thought of was, whether Joseph had taken the keys of the kingdom with him from the earth." Without the keys of the kingdom, that is, the appropriate Priesthood authority, Young recognized the possibility that, according to the church's doctrine and Smith's own teachings, the church lacked a divinely-sanctioned leader.

Because of ongoing tensions, the state legislature revoked Nauvoo's city charter and it was disincorporated. All protection, public services, self-government and other public benefits were revoked. Those who lived in the former City of Nauvoo referred to it as the City of Joseph—He being its founder—after this time, until the city was again granted a charter. Without official defenses, city residents continued to be persecuted by opponents, leading Young to consider other areas for settlement, including Texas, California, Iowa, and the Great Basin region.


Main article: Succession crisis (Mormonism)

Smith left ambiguous or contradictory succession instructions that led to arguments and disagreements among the church's members and leadership, several of whom claimed rights to leadership.

An August 8, 1844 conference which established Young's leadership is the source of an oft-repeated legend. Multiple journal and eyewitness accounts from those who followed Young state that when Young spoke regarding the claims of succession by the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, he appeared to look or sound like the late Smith. Although many of these accounts were written years after the event, there were contemporary records. Historian D. Michael Quinn wrote:

There were contemporary references to Young's transfiguration. The Times and Seasons reported that just before the sustaining vote at the afternoon session of the August meeting, "every Saint could see that Elijah's mantle had truly fallen upon the 'Twelve.'" Although the church newspaper did not refer to Young specifically for the "mantle" experience, on 15 November 1844 Henry and Catharine Brooke wrote from Nauvoo that Young "favours Br Joseph, both in person, manner of speaking more than any person ever you saw, looks like another." Five days later Arza Hinckley referred to "Brigham Young on [w]hom the mantle of the prophet Joseph has fallen."[19]

—D. Michael Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power, p. 166

Most Latter Day Saints followed Young, but some aligned with other various people claiming to be Smith's successor. For instance, Smith's son, Joseph Smith III, established the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (now called the Community of Christ church) as an adult in 1860. Smith's Vice Presidential running mate Sidney Rigdon formed the Chuch of Jesus Christ, headquartered in Greensburg, Pennsylvania with a few more congregations scattered throughout the area. Many of these smaller groups were spread throughout the midwestern United States, especially in Independence, Missouri, and several remain viable as religious groups. Issues relating to the succession crisis are still the subject of discussion and debate.

Mob violence and conflict continued to grow and threaten the Mormon establishment at Nauvoo. By the end of 1845 it became clear that no peace was possible, and most of the Latter Day Saints prepared to abandon the city. The winter of 1845-46 saw the enormous preparations for the Mormon Exodus across the Great Plains; in early 1846, the majority of the Latter Day Saints emptied the city.

The leadership of the Church, headed by Young, led the Latter Day Saints out of the United States, across the Great Plains and into Utah, which was then Mexican territory.

See also: History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

In the modern media

  • The story of Smith and the founding of the Latter-day Saint movement has proven an interesting topic for films, books, and music through the years.
  • On TV, Joseph Smith's life as a prophet is satirized in the South Park episode All About Mormons.
  • In film, he has been portrayed by actors such as Vincent Price (Brigham Young), Jonathan Scarfe (The Work and The Glory), Nathan Mitchell (Joseph Smith: Prophet of the Restoration) and Richard Moll (Brigham).
  • Smith was the subject of the cover of Newsweek Magazine, dated October 17, 2005 (but actually appearing one week earlier). The cover was a reproduction of a stained-glass window portraying the First Vision. Many opinions on Joseph Smith were quoted, ranging from the glowing tribute by LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley to very negative remarks by Mark Scherer, official historian of the Community of Christ.


  1. ^ Statistical Report 2005, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. See LDS Membership Indicators regarding membership counts compared to attendance.
  2. ^ The critical historian Fawn Brodie (No Man Knows, 119) speculated that one of John Johnson's sons, Eli, meant to punish Joseph by having him castrated for an intimacy with his sister, Nancy Marinda Johnson, but author Bushman states that hypothesis failed. He feels a more probable motivation is recorded by Symonds Ryder, a participant in the event, who felt Smith was plotting to take property from members of the community and a company of citizens violently warned Smith that they would not accept those actions.
  3. ^ Chardon, Ohio court records, Vol U, p. 362, Brodie 1971, p. 198
  4. ^ Brodie 1971, p. 207
  5. ^ The Doctrine and Covenants, ^ There is some debate as to whether the Mormons knew their opponents were government officials.
  6. ^ Extermination Order. LDS FAQ. Retrieved on August 22, 2005.
  7. ^ Boggs, Extermination Order
  8. ^ Smith, Joseph Fielding (1946-1949). "Church History and Modern Revelation" 4: 167–173.
  9. ^ Smith did not teach this in public before his death, but did teach it to the Quorum of the Twelve and the Council of Fifty, who taught it once the temple was completed
  10. ^ Debate as to the status of Smith and polygamy has been debated since during Smith's life. Smith publically denied having ever taught or practiced polygamy. Some are of the opinion that he never practiced it, although general historical consensus holds that he did. Also, many are of the opinion that he may have begun practicing it while he lived in Kirtland.
  11. ^ [1]
  12. ^ The Destruction of the "Nauvoo Expositor"—Proceedings of the Nauvoo City Council and Mayor.
  13. ^ The six other associates that accompanied them were: John P. Greene, Stephen Markham, Dan Jones, John S. Fullmer, Dr. Southwick, and Lorenzo D. Wasson[2]
  14. ^ [3]
  15. ^ ^ Compton, Todd (1997). In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith. Salt Lake City: Signature Books, p. 598. ISBN 1-56085-085-X.
  16. ^ See Wentworth letter.
  17. ^ Quinn, D. Michael (1994). The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power. Salt Lake City: Signature Books, p. 166. ISBN 1-56085-056-6.


In addition, Smith is also the main subject of virtually all works dealing with the early Latter Day Saint movement.

Further information: Works relating to Joseph Smith, Jr.

See also

  • Smith Political Family
  • History of the Latter Day Saint movement
  • Controversies regarding Mormonism
  • Joseph Smith: Prophet of the Restoration (film)
  • Joseph Smith, Jr. and Polygamy
  • Lectures on Faith

This article might use material from a Wikipedia article, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.

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