“Joseph Smith Sr.,” Church History Topics
“Joseph Smith Sr.”
Son of Asael and Mary Duty Smith, Joseph Smith Sr. was born on July 12, 1771, in Massachusetts. At 24 years of age, he married Lucy Mack and settled in Vermont. The couple became the parents of 11 children and participated prominently in the early work of the church organized by their son Joseph Smith Jr.
Around 1802, Joseph Sr. invested in ginseng root, a promising commodity, but a partner stole the returns, leaving the Smith family virtually bankrupt. Joseph Sr. sold his farm and paid down other debts with Lucy’s dowry. After continuing to struggle as a farmer in Vermont and New Hampshire, he finally moved his family to Palmyra, New York, purchasing a farm in nearby Manchester in 1818.
For years, Joseph Sr. resisted participating in organized religion. In 1797, he and his father and brother joined a Universalist society in Tunbridge, Vermont. Universalists believed in salvation for all humanity, regardless of religious affiliation, and typically formed societies rather than churches.
Joseph Smith Sr. was among the first to support his son’s prophetic work. When the angel Moroni first visited Joseph Jr., he told the young man to consult his father. Joseph Sr. became one of the Eight Witnesses of the Book of Mormon, and he was baptized the day the Church was organized.1 Following his baptism, he preached the gospel to his relatives in New York. After moving to Kirtland, Ohio, in 1831, Joseph Sr. labored on the house of the Lord, attended the School of the Prophets, served as a member of the high council, undertook a mission to the eastern United States, and was sustained as an assistant counselor in the First Presidency.2
In 1834, Joseph Jr. called his father as the Patriarch to the Church, and for the rest of Joseph Sr.’s life, he blessed the Saints, often holding meetings where as many as 15 members would receive blessings under his hands. Participants in these meetings often experienced an outpouring of the Spirit. Future Church President Lorenzo Snow attended one such meeting before joining the Church. He felt so impressed watching the patriarch give blessings that he resolved to make a serious study of Latter-day Saint belief.3
In 1838, Joseph Sr. moved with his family to Far West, Missouri. While living there, he heard a false rumor that his sons Joseph Jr. and Hyrum had been killed. The shock of this news caused him to collapse, and the strain apparently affected Joseph Sr. for the rest of his life.4 Less than a year after moving to Far West, mob violence compelled the Smith family to flee to Illinois. Joseph Sr. arrived at Commerce (later Nauvoo), Illinois, in early 1839. Despite a relatively peaceful life in Nauvoo, Joseph Sr.’s health continued to decline until he passed away peacefully on September 14, 1840. His dying wish was for Joseph Jr. to ensure that a proxy baptism for the dead be performed on behalf of his deceased son, Alvin, who died before the Church was organized.5