Born on December 23, 1805, in Sharon, Vermont, to Joseph and Lucy Mack Smith, Joseph Smith Jr. grew up on a series of tenant farms in Vermont, New Hampshire, and New York. Though in his youth Joseph was largely deprived of a formal education, he was "instructed in reading, writing, and the ground rules of arithmetic."1 Joseph's mother said that he was often "given to meditation and deep study."2
Affected by the great religious excitement taking place around his home in Manchester, New York, in 1820, fourteen-year-old Joseph 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). Early one morning in the spring of 1820, Joseph went to a secluded woods to ask God which church he should join. According to his account, while praying Joseph was visited by two "personages" who identified themselves as God the Father 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."3 The 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 historybeloved 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.
- History of Joseph Smith, Jr., by himself, in Joseph Smith's Letter Book at Kirtland, November 27, 1832 to August 4, 1835 (Church Historian's Library, Salt Lake City, Utah).
- History of the Prophet Joseph, Improvement Era, vol. 5, p. 257.
- Book of Mormon, title page.