Joseph Smith, Jr. (December 23, 1805 – June 27, 1844) was an American religious leader. He is the purported translator of the Book of Mormon, a "lost testament" of Jesus Christ's apparition to indigenous peoples of the Americas, and is the founder of the modern Latter-Day Saint movement.
Smith was born in Sharon, Vermont, to Lucy and Joseph Smith, on December 23, 1805. He grew up on a series of tenant farms in Vermont, New Hampshire, and New York. Smith's education consisted of a very limited exposure to reading, writing, and arithmetic. In Lucy Smith's diaries, she later recalled that Joseph was alternately "studious and given to meditation" and "uneducated."
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.
History provides us with evidence suggesting that Joseph Smith had a great interest in treasure hunting. He even claimed to be able to use seer stones and diving rods to find lost treasures. The only documented "find" that Joseph ever made is categorized as "lost tools". Usually, Joseph would approach local farmers, claim to have the ability to find treasure, dig a few holes, and then try to collect his fee. An ex-Mormon, named Hurlbut, collected 100 affidavits from Smith's neighbors regarding his various cons, including precursors to his claims about finding golden plates, which evolved into the Book of Mormon story (Brodie 1945).
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.
During the years between 1823 and 1827, Joseph was engaged in many tresure hunts, throughout the north-eastern United States. It should be noted that none of those hunts resulted in the discovery of any significant treasures—other than the preported discovery of the Book of Mormon. When questioned about the lack of discovery, Smith would often claim that the treasures "had sunk lower" because of a lack of spirituality on the part of the seekers. Court records from Bainbridge, in Chenango County, New York, show that on March 20, 1826, Joseph Smith Jr. was tried and convicted of disorderly conduct and of being an imposter in relation to an event where he pretended to be able to find buried gold and treasure through the use of a magic stone or by looking into a hat. Court records show that in that same year Joseph Smith Jr. was tried in Norwich, New York for the misdemeanor crime of "glass looking" (treasure-hunting). It's unclear whether Smith was convicted and set free, or merely acquitted of the latter charge.
Book of Mormon
There is discrepancy in the record of when Joseph retrieved the Book of Mormon. Some accounts place the discovery as early as 1823, while others place the discovery closer to the time at which Smith transribed the account, inscribed on thin golden plates. Smith claimed that the angel, Moroni, had shown him the place where the account had been buried and asked him to dig it up. Martin Harris met Smith in Harmony, Pennsylvania, in February of 1828. They "purposed to transcribe" the plates and record the Book of Mormon. Joseph used two seer stones, the Urim and Thummim (deposited with the plates), and a hat, to translate the plates. Martin Harris would sit on the other side of a curtain and record Joseph's words. This first account, transcribed by Martin Harris, was lost when Harris took the chapters home to his wife. Harris' wife claimed that "if Joseph is telling the truth, then re-writing these chapters should not prove difficult." It is unknown what Mrs. Harris did to the original transcription, but it is thought that she threw it into the fire. Martin Harris had to return to Smith and tell him what his wife had done. Joseph spent a few days in a "melancholy state" (according to the diaries of Lucy Smith) and then told Harris that God had decided that Smith should no longer translate the story of Lehi, but would translate the story of Nephi and Mosiah, through the book of Moroni. Thus, any rediscovery of the original 116 "lost pages" would not contradict the latter translations. They are simply a different testimony. 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. Emma Hale and Joseph Smith 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. Joseph also created the idea of plural marriage, as one of God's holy ordinances, and had at least thirty-three wives. He was a controversial figure in American history—beloved of his followers and hated by his detractors. Joseph was killed along with his brother Hyrum by a mob in Carthage, Illinois, on June 27, 1844. Hyrum was shot. Joseph likely succumbed to two mortal wounds: a gun shot and blunt force trauma (sustained upon impact with the ground, after jumping out of a second story window).
- Brodie, Fawn. No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith. New York: Vintage Books, 1945. No Man Knows My History