107 Joseph Smith, Jr.

   Joseph Smith (1805-1844)

Joseph Smith was an American religious leader and founder of Mormonism and the Latter Day Saint movement. At age 24, in 1830, Smith published The Book of Mormon. By the time of his death fourteen years later, he had attracted tens of thousands of followers and founded a religious culture that continues to the present. Joseph was born in Sharon, Vermont. He lived in a series of Tenant Farms in Vermont, New Hampshire and New York. Deprived a formal education he was “instructed in reading, writing and the ground rules of arithmetic.” His mother said he was often given to meditation and deep study. Smith was affected by heavy religious revivalism during the Second Great Awakening in Manchester, New York, in 1820.

At age 14 Smith was determined to know which of the many religions he should join. He encountered a passage in the Bible instructing any who lacked wisdom to “ask of God” (James 1:5). In1820, Joseph went to a secluded woods to ask God which church he should join.While praying Joseph was visited by two “personages” who identified themselves as God and Jesus Christ. He was told not to join any of the churches. In 1823, Joseph Smith said he was visited by an angel named Moroni, who told him of an ancient record containing God’s dealings with the former inhabitants of the American continent. In 1827, Joseph retrieved this record, inscribed on thin golden plates, and shortly afterward began translating its words by the “gift of God.”3The resulting manuscript, the Book of Mormon, was published in March 1830. On April 6, 1830, Joseph Smith organized The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and became its first president. Joseph married Emma Hale on January 18, 1827, and was described as a loving and devoted husband. They had eleven children (two adopted), only five of whom lived past infancy. During the thirty-nine years of his life, Joseph established thriving cities in Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois; produced volumes of scripture; sent missionaries throughout the world; orchestrated the building of temples; served as mayor of Nauvoo, one of the largest cities in Illinois, and as general of its militia, the Nauvoo Legion; and was a candidate for the presidency of the United States. He was a controversial figure in American history—beloved of his followers and hated by his detractors. Joseph was persecuted much of his adult life and was killed along with his brother Hyrum by a mob in Carthage, Illinois, on June 27, 1844.

In 1831, Smith and his followers moved west, planning to build a communalistic American Zion. They first gathered in Kirkland, Ohio, and established an outpost in Independence, Missouri, which was intended to be Zion’s “center place”. During the 1830s, Smith sent out missionaries, published revelations, and supervised construction of the Kirkland Temple. The collapse of the church-sponsored Kirkland Safety Society and violent skirmishes with non-Mormon Missourians caused Smith and his followers to establish a new settlement at Nauvoo, Illinois, where he became a spiritual and political leader. In 1844, Smith and the Nauvoo city council angered non-Mormons by destroying a newspaper that had criticized Smith’s power and practice of polygamy. After Smith was imprisoned in Carthage, Illinois, he was killed when a mob stormed the jailhouse.

Smith published many revelations and other texts that his followers recognize as scripture. His teachings include unique views about 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 organizations consider themselves the continuation of the church he organized, including The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and Community of Christ.

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Joseph Smith, Jr. by Timothy Robbins is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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