Joseph Smith

Born: 1805

Birthplace: Vermont

Died: 1844

One of the most unusual stories in American history is that of Joseph Smith. He was a religious leader that was called an American prophet, as well as founding the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as the Mormons.

  • Joseph Smith was from a normal family in New England. Due to financial problems, they had to move to Palmyra, New York. His mother’s family had rejected Congregationalism and instead took on the religion of Seekerism, who sought a more perfect Christianity. His family rarely went to church even though they were very religious. His mother only got involved in looking for treasure and magic, and his father refused to be involved in it.
  • It’s not surprising that Smith was confused about religion, considering the many problems and rivalry. At the age of 14 years, Smith prayed for help, and he is said to have stated that God and Jesus showed up to him and answered his question that all of the churches were wrong. Smith truly believed what he saw and then, in 1823, was said to have had another vision.
  • The vision that he had in 1823 began the journey to create a new religion. He said he saw an angel in his bedroom that said his name was Moroni. The angel told him about golden plates that had the record of the ancient people that once lived in America. Moroni told him where to find the plates that were buried in a stone box close to their home. He was told to remove the plates four years later by Moroni and was given the information on how to translate the images that were engraved on them. He was given special stones for the translation that were called “interpreters.” It took Smith 90 days to do the translation, and in 1830 he published the volume of 588 pages calling it the “Book of Mormon.”
  • According to the “Book of Mormon,” it contained a history of one thousand years involving the Israelites that were led from Jerusalem and told that their promised land was in the Western Hemisphere. This history included the development of a new civilization, prophets, and that Christ visited them when he was resurrected.
  • The “Book of Mormon” is very complex and, like the Bible, has chapters named after prophets. One of the prophets’ names was Mormon, who put the gold plates and engraving together. According to the book, in the year 400 CE, those that kept all of the records which were called Nephites were killed by enemies known as Lamanites. It is assumed that the Lamanites were Native Indian ancestors.
  • In 1830, Smith gathered around 24 people that wanted to start a new church based on the Book of Mormon. He set out as a goal to gather more people and develop “cities of Zion” where they could escape. The men that were converted were ordained in the church and sent out to gather more to be converted. This resulted in missionaries adding tens of thousands in the coming years.
  • When anyone joined their church, they were called “Saints,” and they all had their first gathering in Independence, Missouri. However, settlers that were living there didn’t like them, and Smith moved his group to Kirtland, Ohio. Whenever their numbers grew too large in an area that threatened to take over, they were thrown out of the communities. The Mormons were thought of as religious fanatics.  Smith tried to take his people to Missouri again, and the locals drove them out of the state completely.
  • In 1838 Smith was put in jail and charged with arson, treason, and robbery. He escaped and fled to Illinois, where Smith constructed a lovely settlement that they named “Nauvoo.” The settlement grew with many arriving from Europe, and Nauvoo was almost as large as Chicago.
  • Everything that Smith said was documented and then published in 1835. Additions were made to the Book of Mormon that included some of what Smith said. Smith built two “temples” for his religion, and each was to look like those of ancient Israel. Rules and guidelines were set down for rituals, religious ceremonies, and the belief that men could have as many as 30 wives (polygamy).
  • Although Smith did marry and had nine children and two adopted children, his wife had a problem with multiple wives. Those in the community outside of their group eventually rioted, and Smith and others were put in jail. A mob shot them while they were imprisoned in 1844, and the church leadership was given to Brigham Young. Young eventually moved the settlement to Salt Lake City, Utah, where it remains today.


What was the name of the angel that Joseph Smith said came to him in a vision?

How many years went by before Smith could translate the golden plates?

What was Smith told to use to translate the message on the golden plates?
Stones that were “translators”

What caused Smith and his religious group to keep moving to new places?
Anger from local communities

Who had to take over the leadership of their church when Joseph Smith was killed?
Brigham Young

Where did the Mormons eventually settle in the United States?
Salt Lake City, Utah