The Prophet Joseph Smith is one of the most charismatic and influential religious figures in American history. Joseph Smith acquired many followers throughout his life, but also many opponents because his teachings were not welcomed by most people in the existing Christian community. For many of them, the doctrines he taught were nothing more than blasphemy and contrary to their interpretation of the Bible.
Joseph Smith's ancestors were ordinary New England farm people who emigrated from England to America in the seventeenth century and settled in Massachusetts. Joseph Smith was born on December 23, 1805, in Sharon, Vermont, the son of Joseph and Lucy Mack Smith. In his youth Joseph was largely deprived of a formal education, but he was instructed in reading, writing, and the basic rules of arithmetic; his mother reported that he was often given to meditation and deep study.
The Smiths moved several times in less than twenty years, but almost all of Joseph's later childhood was spent near Palmyra, New York, in an area that was called the "burned-over district" for its frequent and fervent religious excitement.
In 1820, at the age of fourteen, Joseph was deeply perplexed about which church he should join, and the conflicting preaching of many religious ministers increased his uncertainty. However, he was determined to know which of the many religions was right. After reading a passage in the Bible, instructing any who lacked wisdom to "ask of God" (James 1:5), Joseph decided to turn directly to God for guidance.
Early one morning in the spring of 1820, Joseph went to secluded woods to ask God which church he should follow. As he was praying, as he recounted later, God the Father and the Son appeared to him. This experience is called the First Vision in Mormonism and considered a fundamental happening in the history of humankind, second only to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Later, in 1823, Joseph Smith said he was also 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. However, he was also told that he should wait another four years before being able to obtain the plates and that, until then, He should return each year to the same place to receive further instructions. In 1827, Joseph was finally able to retrieve this record that was inscribed on golden plates. Shortly after obtaining the gold plates, Joseph Smith began translating its words by the "gift of God."
While working in Harmony, Pennsylvania, in 1825, Joseph Smith met Emma Hale. On January 18, 1827, Joseph and Emma were married. Together they had eleven children (including two who were adopted), only five of whom, however, lived past infancy. Joseph deeply loved his family, and his personal writings are filled with concerns and prayers for the welfare of his family.
Photograph of Joseph Smith
During his short life, the Prophet Joseph established cities, produced volumes of scriptures, and sent missionaries throughout the world. He was involved in the construction of temples, served as mayor of Nauvoo, and was even a candidate for the presidency of the United States.
He was definitively a controversial figure in American history who attracted persecution because he challenged established creeds. On June 27, 1844, while in a in Carthage Jail, Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum Smith were killed by a mob with blackened faces.