- SMITH, Joseph, Jr., founder of Mormonism, was born in Sharon, Vt., Dec. 23, 1805; son of Joseph and Lucy (Mack) Smith; grandson of Asael and Mary (Duty) Smith, and of Solomon and Lydia (Gates) Mack, and a descendant of Robert and Mary Smith, who emigrated from England, and whose son Samuel was born in Topsfield, Mass., Jan. 26, 1666, and married Rebecca Curtis. His parents removed from Tunbridge, Vt., to Royalton and subsequently to Sharon, where he received a most limited education and worked at times on a farm.
The only noteworthy fact in his boyhood is his inherited susceptibility to visions, which he was accustomed to narrate to his family. This habit strengthened his own credulity in the supernatural and prepared the way for the reception of his chief revelation of an angel who disclosed the burial-place of plates of gold, containing "the fulness of the everlasting Gospel" and a history of the former inhabitants of America. This vision was followed by others in which he claimed to receive divine instruction relating to the possession of the mysterious Record.
He was married, Jan. 18, 1827, to Emma, daughter of Isaac and Elizabeth Hale of Harmony, Pa. On Sept. 22, 1827, having discovered the gold plates in a hill near Manchester, N.Y., these were delivered into his keeping. He removed to his wife's home in Pennsylvania, where he commenced, with the aid of two silverbows, the Urim and Thummim so-called, the translation of the Book of Mormon; the latter word, according to his subsequent interpretation being derived from the Egyptian Mon, signifying good, and the contraction of the English more, meaning literally more good.
By dictation to his wife, to one Oliver Cowdery, a schoolmaster, and to Christian Whitmer, a farmer, the translation of the Record was accomplished, the work being first copyrighted, June 11, 1829, and printed early in 1830. The tenets of the creed consisted in belief in the Trinity, in the punishment for personal but not for Adam's transgression, in salvation through the atonement of Christ, by baptism, in the Lord's supper, the calling of preachers by inspiration, in prophecy, revelation, healing, etc., in the Bible and Book of Mormon, the restoration of the ten lost tribes, and the literal restoration of the body. It recognized two orders of priesthood, "Aaronic and Melchezldeck," governed by a prophet or president, and the organization of the primitive [p.416] church, composed of twelve apostles, the "seventies," bishops, high-priests, deacons, elders and teachers.
On May 15, 1829, Smith baptized Oliver Cowdery into the new faith, and was in turn baptized by Cowdery. Members of his own family also became believers, and among his early converts were Brigham and Joseph Young. A church was organized at Fayette, Seneca county, N.Y., April 6, 1830. Smith preached and practised as a faith healer in many places throughout New York state, settling finally in Waterloo, in the following June, Peter Whitmer, Oliver Cowdery and two others founded the city of Zion, Mo., organizing on their way a church at Kirkland, whither Smith removed with his followers at Waterloo, and where was built the first temple, called "The Church of Jesus Christ, of Latter Day Saints."
Difficulties arose, however, and to escape from his followers, who charged him with fraud and the attempted murder of Grandison Newell, Smith fled to Far West, Mo. In 1838 civil war broke out between the Mormons and Missourians, the former defying the officers of the law. Upon the calling out of the militia, Smith, with several of his associates, was taken prisoner, and the remainder, driven from their homes, took refuge in Hancock County, Ill.; subsequently obtained a liberal charter from Gov. Thomas Carlin, and founded the city of Nauvoo, Dec. 16, 1840, of which Smith (who had effected his escape in April, 1839) was elected mayor. He was also chosen sole trustee of the Mormon church with unlimited powers; formed a military organization of 1500 men, making himself lieutenant-general, and established a new temple.
On July 12, 1843, Smith is said to have received his Revelation on the Eternity of the Marriage Covenant, including Plurality of Wives, which he committed to writing, although much controversy exists as to the degree of his implication in the introduction and tolerance of polygamy. However, a newspaper, denouncing the practice of "spiritual wives" as immoral, was established in Nauvoo by Dr. Robert D. Foster and William Law in 1844. After the circulation of one number, the building was torn down by the followers of Smith; and Foster and Law fled to Carthage, where they obtained a warrant for his arrest. Upon the violent ejection from the city of the official charged with serving the warrant, the militia compelled the Mormons to relinquish their arms, and arrested Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum. A guard was placed over the building where they were imprisoned at Cartilage, Ill., but on the evening of June 27, 1844, a mob of over 100 men attacked the jail, and Joseph and Hyrum Smith were assassinated.
Joseph Smith published: The Book of Mormon (1830); Book of Commandments, for the Government of the Church of Christ (1833); Correspondence (1844); Views of the Power and Policy of the Government of the United States (1844), and The Holy Scriptures, translated and corrected by the Spirit of Revelation (1867). See: "The Founder of Mormonism" by Isaac W. Riley (1902), which contains an extensive bibliography of Mormoniana. Joseph Smith died in Carthage, Ill., June 27, 1844.