Who was Joseph Smith and what role does he play in Mormon history?
Joseph Smith, Jr., the founder of Mormonism, was born in Sharon, Vermont, on December 23, 1805. When Smith was eleven, he and his family moved to Palmyra, New York, located near the present site of Rochester. In a few years, most of the family members joined the Presbyterian church, but young Joseph was undecided. He felt that there was so much strife and confusion among the churches of his day that he was puzzled over which group had the right beliefs.
According to one of Mormonism’s sacred books, The Pearl of Great Price, Smith was reading James 1:5: “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.” In obedience to this command, Smith went to a secluded place and began to pray. Suddenly, two personages appeared. One of them pointed to the other and said, “This is my Beloved son. Hear Him!”
Smith asked one of these personages which “sect” was the right one. The personage indicated that they are all wrong, and that the beliefs and creeds that all churches subscribed to were wrong. Smith claims that all of this occurred in 1820, when he was only fourteen years old.
Joseph Smith and his followers met a great deal of hostility because of their beliefs and practices. They moved west and began to settle in Jackson County, Missouri, where the city of Independence is located. In 1832, Smith received a revelation indicating that Jackson County, Missouri, was “the land of promise, and the place for the city of Zion,” according to the Mormon book Doctrine and Covenants, 57:1–2. However, the locals did not welcome the claim that God had chosen their land to be the Mormon Zion.
Smith and his followers were persecuted whever they went, but by 1839 they settled in Illinois and chose a site on the Mississippi River, about fifty miles north of Quincy. Smith called the place Nauvoo, which he claimed was Hebrew for “beautiful place.” However, once again, trouble began to brew for the Mormons. The local newspaper, the Nauvoo Expositor, an anti-Mormon publication, began to publish material that was unfavorable to the Mormons.
Smith and some of his followers destroyed the presses and sought to burn every copy of the Nauvoo Expositor they could find. Smith and his brother Hyrum were arrested. But on June 27, 1844, a mob stormed the jail and murdered both Smith and his brother. In Mormon eyes, Smith now became a martyr.
What happened to Mormons after the murder of Joseph Smith?
With the death of Smith, the Mormons were forced to look for a successor. Several LDS leaders stepped forward to take control of the Mormon church. Each claimed prophetic abilities and apostolic gifts. Some even claimed that Smith had personally appointed them to be his successor.
There were more than one hundred splinter groups that emerged, the largest and most influential being the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. However, the majority of Mormons followed Brigham Young, who became the second prophet and president of the Latter-Day Saints.