Joseph Smith Jr. (December 23, 1805 – June 27, 1844) was an American religious leader and founder of Mormonism and the Latter Day Saint movement. When he was 24, Smith published the Book of Mormon. By the time of his death, 14 years later, he had attracted tens of thousands of followers and founded a religion that continues to the present.
The main reason he is on the site is because he had two visions when he was still a boy, which prompted him to seek and new direction and eventually found the church.
Smith published many later ‘revelations’ and other texts that his followers regard as scripture. His teachings discuss the nature of God, cosmology, family structures, political organization, and religious collectivism. His followers regard him as a prophet comparable to Moses and Elijah, and several religious denominations consider themselves the continuation of the church that he organized, including The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Community of Christ.
Smith was born on December 23, 1805 in Sharon, Vermont to Lucy Mack Smith and her husband Joseph Sr., a merchant and farmer.
His family were of Irish descent. There were altogether 11 of them – mother and father along with his brothers, Alvin, Hyrum, Joseph himself, Samuel Harrison, William, Don Carlos; and his sisters, Sophronia, Catherine, and Lucy.
The family moved to a farm in the nearby town of Manchester, which turned out to be a region which was a hotbed of religious enthusiasm during the Second Great Awakening.
Pearl of Great Price: Joseph Smith - History: Chapter 1
5 Some time in the second year after our removal to Manchester, there was in the place where we lived an unusual excitement on the subject of religion. It commenced with the Methodists, but soon became general among all the sects in that region of country. Indeed, the whole district of country seemed affected by it, and great multitudes united themselves to the different religious parties, which created no small stir and division amongst the people, some crying, "Lo, here!" and others, "Lo, there!" Some were contending for the Methodist faith, some for the Presbyterian, and some for the Baptists……………
8 During this time of great excitement my mind was called up to serious reflection and great uneasiness; but though my feelings were deep and often poignant, still I kept myself aloof from all these parties, though I attended their several meetings as often as occasion would permit. In process of time my mind became somewhat partial to the Methodist sect, and I felt some desire to be united with them; but so great were the confusion and strife among the different denominations, that it was impossible for a person young as I was, and so unacquainted with men and things, to come to any certain conclusion who was right and who was wrong………………..
10 In the midst of this war of words and tumult of opinions, I often said to myself: What is to be done? Who of all these parties are right; or, are they all wrong together? If any one of them be right, which is it, and how shall I know it?
Confused and uncertain, he was reading the Epistle of James, first chapter and fifth verse, one day when one verse in particular struck him.
If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.
This struck a chord and he thought about it a great deal “ knowing that if any person needed wisdom from God, I did; for how to act I did not know, and unless I could get more wisdom than I then had, I would never know”.
Pearl of Great Price: Joseph Smith - History: Chapter 1
14 So, in accordance with this, my determination to ask of God, I retired to the woods to make the attempt. It was on the morning of a beautiful, clear day, early in the spring of eighteen hundred and twenty. It was the first time in my life that I had made such an attempt, for amidst all my anxieties I had never as yet made the attempt to pray vocally.
15 After I had retired to the place where I had previously designed to go, having looked around me, and finding myself alone, I kneeled down and began to offer up the desires of my heart to God. I had scarcely done so, when immediately I was seized upon by some power which entirely overcame me, and had such an astonishing influence over me as to bind my tongue so that I could not speak. Thick darkness gathered around me, and it seemed to me for a time as if I were doomed to sudden destruction.
At which point he received his instructions via the vision.
When he came to himself again, he found himself lying on his back, looking up into heaven. When the light had departed, he had no strength; but ‘soon recovering in some degree’, he went home.
Some days after he had this vision, he was with one of the Methodist preachers, and told him about the vision. He says “. I was greatly surprised at his behavior; he treated my communication not only lightly, but with great contempt, saying it was all of the devil, that there were no such things as visions or revelations in these days; that all such things had ceased with the apostles, and that there would never be any more of them.”
And it was thus that he became the subject of considerable persecution and prejudice. As he says
Adolescence and second Vision
Joseph then describes how he had what to all intents and purposes, was a normal adolescence, although he appears to have believed that it ought to have been different given the vision he had had. “But I was guilty of levity” he says “ and sometimes associated with jovial company, etc., not consistent with that character which ought to be maintained by one who was called of God as I had been”
But on the 21st September, after he had retired to his bed, he decided he needed to pray for forgiveness ‘of all my sins and follies’. And at this point he had his second vision [see the observation].
As he got older Joseph became a hired hand. The family was not at all well off and travelled around to get employment, ‘hiring out by day's work and otherwise, as we could get opportunity’. In 1823, Joseph’s eldest brother Alvin, died.
By October, 1825, Joseph was working for Josiah Stoal, in his silver mine. He worked in the mine for a month, but they found nothing. It was not an entirely fruitless labour however, as whilst he was thus employed, he boarded with Isaac Hale, and met his future wife – Hale’s daughter, Emma. They married on 18th of January, 1827. Emma’s father's family were very much opposed to the marriage, so they married effectively in secret “at the house of Squire Tarbill, in South Bainbridge, Chenango county, New York”. Immediately after his marriage, he left Mr. Stoal's, to farm with his father.
The translation of the plates and the Book of Mormon
On the 22nd September, 1827, having gone as usual at the end of another year to the place where the plates, the Urim and Thummim, and the breastplate were deposited,[ see observations for the detail] the same heavenly messenger gave them to Joseph.
The translation of the plates caused great problems for Joseph and his helper and friend Martin Harris, as will be seen by the observation. However, a new helper arrived on the 5th April, 1829, Oliver Cowdery. He told Joseph that he had been teaching in the neighborhood where Joseph’s father lived and had boarded at his house, and ‘while there the family related to him the circumstances of my having received the plates, and accordingly he had come to make inquiries of me’.
Two days after the arrival of Mr. Cowdery (7th of April) the translation of the Book of Mormon began with Cowdery’s help. Joseph’s wife's father's family, who thought they should be allowed to continue the work of translation without interruption; offered them protection from any threats and persecution. Oliver Cowdery describes these events thus:
The completed work, titled the Book of Mormon, was published in Palmyra on March 26, 1830. Soon after, on April 6, 1830, Smith and his followers formally organized the Church of Christ, and small branches were established in Palmyra, Fayette, and Colesville, New York.
From this point, the life of Smith is very much tied up with the spread of his church and the opposition they faced. There was violence and in-fighting, and Smith never again obtained the intense visions he had had as a boy. Smith was even imprisoned, and Brigham Young, the president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, rose to prominence. He became vehemently political even announcing his own independent candidacy for President of the United States.
And his private life was tragic. Emma gave birth to nine children during their marriage, five of whom died before the age of two. The eldest, Alvin (born in 1828), died within hours of birth, as did twins Thaddeus and Louisa (born in 1831). When the twins died, the Smiths adopted another set of twins, Julia and Joseph, whose mother had recently died in childbirth; Joseph died of measles in 1832. In 1841, Don Carlos, who had been born a year earlier, died of malaria. In 1842, Emma gave birth to a stillborn son. Joseph and Emma had only four sons who lived to maturity.
In March 1844 — following a dispute with a federal bureaucrat — Smith organized the secret Council of Fifty. Smith said the Council had authority to decide which national or state laws Mormons should obey. Mormons were to live under theocratic law beyond governmental control. After his death, non-Mormon newspapers were almost unanimous in portraying Smith as a religious fanatic. A sort of Ayatollah of the Mormons.
He died violently. On June 27, 1844, an armed mob stormed Carthage Jail where he was being held.. Smith sprang for the window, but was shot multiple times before falling out the window, he died shortly after hitting the ground, but was shot several more times before the mob dispersed.
As of 2013, members of the denominations originating from Smith's teachings number approximately 16.3 million.
For iPad/iPhone users: tap letter twice to get list of items.
- Smith, Joseph - 01 The first vision
- Smith, Joseph - 02 The visit of the Angel Moroni
- Smith, Joseph - 03 Receiving the plates, the Urim and Thummim, and the breastplate from the angel
- Smith, Joseph - 04 The beginnings of the Priesthood of Melchizedek
- Smith, Joseph - 05 Next vision, ‘and the angel of God came down clothed with glory’