Biography of Joseph Smith
Decatur County, IA Biographies





JOSEPH SMITH.
By Mary Audentia Anderson.
Joseph Smith, late president of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, was born at Kirkland, Ohio, November 6, 1832, and was the son of Joseph, Jr., and Emma Hale Smith, the latter being the daughter of Isaac Hale, a prominent and prosperous farmer of Pennsylvania.

Joseph Smith, Jr., the father of our subject, when a boy of fourteen, claimed that an angel appeared to him telling him not to join any of the churches of the day but to live faithfully, and he would be instrumental in carrying out God's plan to restore to earth the true gospel of Christ. Some years later, he claimed that the same angel delivered into his hands some gold plates, upon which were engraven strange characters. These, by the power of God, he claims to have translated, and the book was published at Palmyra, New York, in 1830 under the title of "Book of Mormon." It purports to be a record of the ancient inhabitants of America and God's dealings with them.

On April 6, 1830, he and five others, organized a church, according to instruction received by divine revelation. This claim, so unusual, and corning to a people who thought they fully possessed the Christian faith aroused much opposition.

In 1838, he moved his family to Missouri, settling at Far West, Caldwell county, but difficulties aggravated by misrepresentations of enemies, continued to harass the church and that fall he, with others was thrown into prison, being confined for seven long months in a noisome dungeon at Liberty, Clay county, Missouri.

While they were thus imprisoned, many of the families of the saints suffered unbelievable trials and deprivations. The governor of Missouri issued an order to banish them from the state or exterminate them, and, thus many thousands of peaceable and unoffending people were driven from their rightly purchased homes, in the cold of a severe winter, and forced to make their way as best they could to Illinois, where more humane and sympathetic people succored them.

Among the number thus forced to flee for their lives was Emma, the young wife of the leader of the church, who at that time was confined in the jail before mentioned. With her two youngest sons in her arms, and little Joseph and a foster daughter clinging to her skirts, she crossed the frozen Mississippi on foot, and made her way to Quincy, Illinois, where she found rest, food and shelter in the home of a family by the name of Cleveland. In the spring she was joined by her husband, and a home was established later at Commerce, Hancock county, Illinois, which town afterward bore the name of Nauvoo and became the great center city of the Saints. They enjoyed a period of comparative prosperity, the population of the town swelling to fourteen thousand. A magnificent temple was started in 1841, built of the native stone of the country, but it was never completed.

Here, then, amidst such scenes, was spent the early life and boyhood of the late President Smith. He was baptized by his father when eight years old and later was blessed by him and designated as the future leader of the church. Perilous times ensued for the father, for he was persecuted by his enemies, and several times arrested but as often acquitted and released.

Finally a requisition came from the governor of Missouri demanding him as a fugitive from justice from that state and charging him with treason. Upon examination before a competent court the requisition was denied. In June, 1844, he was arrested on charge of riot and while under arrest, on the 27th day of June, 1844, a masked and painted mob of lawless men, shot him and his brother Hyrum, to death.

Following this tragedy the saints became scattered, many false leaders springing up, causing many schisms in their ranks, and two years later a great exodus occurred, thousands wending their way across the desert of the west to Salt Lake City, Utah, where Brigham Young built up his empiric stronghold.

Emma Smith, the widow of the murdered prophet, steadfastly refused to acknowledge the leadership of Brigham Young, and in spite of threats, promises, warnings and pressure of all kinds brought to bear upon her, she refused to go west but remained at Nauvoo, where she reared her four sons to manhood, instilling in them fearless honesty, steadfast loyalty to conviction, loving respect for their father's memory, and supreme confidence in and reverence for God.

Responding to a call which he believed to be divine, "Young Joseph" as he was affectionately called by those who knew him in those days, in 1860 attended a conference of the membership of the church, at Amboy, Illinois There he was chosen president, being ordained to that position on April 6. This organization had been effected in 1832 and had taken a firm and uncompromising stand against the evils in the Utah faction, among which were the doctrines of polygamy, blood stonement, spiritual wifery, etc. This stand the Reorganized Church has never abandoned.

This was the work which Joseph Smith took up at the age of twenty eight, a work to which he bent, throughout the long years of his life, his best and worthiest energies. Patiently the scattered saints built up by slow and careful steps, an organization whose pride it is to live in conformity with the rules of right conduct and right motives, believing as they do that "he who would keep the law of God has no need to break the laws of the land." From the small beginning made in 1852 this church with Joseph Smith as its president, and against fearful odds of popular misunderstanding and prejudice, succeeded in carrying out most triumphantly a high standard in doctrine and morals. How well they succeeded was partially evidenced by the fact that upon the announcement of Joseph Smith's death last winter, the press of the country almost universally united in expressions of respect and esteem. Where he was personally known, he was beloved; and where only his public work was known, that was spoken of in generous terms of approbation for its acknowledged consistency and earnestness.

He was very patriotic and highly prized his right of franchise, exercising that prerogative for the last time just a few days prior to his death. His political convictions caused his support to go to the republican party, and he voted for every republican candidate for president, his first vote being cast for John C. Fremont in 1856.

He studied law in his youth but never entered into its practice. He served two terms as justice of the peace in Nauvoo, and one term in Plano, Illinois, to which place he moved in 1865. He had editorial charge of the Saints' Herald, official organ of the church, from 1865 to the close of his life. He served at various times as member of school boards, having always a keen interest in affairs of education and progress.

In 1881 he moved to Lamoni, Iowa, to which place the Herald publishing plant and official headquarters of the church were at the same time transferred. He, with his family, consisting at that time of wife, four sons and four daughters, arrived on the evening of October 8, and took up their residence in a commodious frame dwelling which had been built the preceding summer for their reception. It was situated on a small farm of forty acres adjoining the town limits on the west, and from this home he went daily to the Herald office, carrying on his work as editor and presiding officer of the church. He gave the name of "Liberty Hall" to his home, and his fine and never failing hospitality, - to rich and poor alike, - his open door to the needy or the deserving, fully justified this title. Later, when he moved to Independence, Missouri, and the place was transformed into a residence for aged people of the church, the name was preserved and today it is known as "Liberty Home" and has sheltered many aged and deserving people.

In Lamoni, as in Plano and Nauvoo, Joseph Smith's influence for good citizenship was strongly felt. He was an active advocate of temperance, and many and powerful were the addresses he made in that cause from pulpit and lecture platform. He assisted in banishing the saloon from every town he lived in and promulgated the doctrine of sobriety and abstinence wherever and whenever opportunity offered. His church associates are stanch supporters of this principle also and can be counted upon to vote almost solidly for prohibition movements.

Three times has the Reorganized Church established in the courts of the land, its claim to be the only true and lawful successor to the original church as founded by Joseph Smith, Sr., in 1830.

The accepted books of the church strongly condemn the doctrine of polygamy and teach instead purity and virtue of life, integrity, godliness, and everything having a tendency to exalt and ennoble the human mind, and Joseph Smith counseled the members of the church to shun any and every man who taught any principles contrary to these virtues.

The enemies of Joseph Smith claimed that he was ignorant, shiftless and mischievous, and that he came of low and ignoble parentage. This has been successfully and undeniably refuted by those who have made a study of his ancestry. It is found that behind him a long line of industrious, gentle and patriotic forbears stand, and in them we may trace, to a considerable extent, many of the traits of character, which distinguished him, as well as his son, the subject of our sketch. In both men there existed a strong love of country, and firm respect for its laws and government, as well as a deep hatred for all forms of oppression, tyranny or injustice. These characteristics may be traced to their ancestors who bore arms in defense of their country and fought for the establishment of their rights to freedom and liberty. Asael Smith, grandfather of Joseph the Prophet, was a captain of Minute Men, who marched at the call of April 19, 1775, and helped to fire the "shot that was heard around the world." Also he commanded a company at the fortification of Dorchester Heights, and, in 1776 helped to drive the British from Boston. His father, Captain Samuel Smith, was prominent in the affairs, both civil and military, which marked the stirring days of the colonies' revolt against tyranny, being a member of the "Tea Committee," and the "Committee of Safety," and held at various times many positions of trust and service in his community. He was representative to several Provincial and Continental Congresses, where resolutions were passed, condemning the actions of theirs oppressors, declaring their constitutional rights, and pledging themselves and their fortunes to the defense of those rights. Energetically were those pledges redeemed; companies were raised, equipped and carefully drilled, and these farmer soldiers later took active and effectual part in the valorous deeds which fill the history of those times and which resulted in the blessed heritage of freedom which we possess.

Lucy Mack Smith, the mother of the founder of the church, also came from a family active in military affairs, her father, Solomon Mack, serving in the French and Indian wars, and the Revolution. He fought in the battle at Lake George and later was with Major Putnam in his historical engagements with the Indians. In 1776 he enlisted in the continental army, serving his country until the close of the war. His son, Stephen, held the position of major in the War of 1812, also having seen service in the Revolutionary war, although he was but seventeen when he enlisted. Major Mack was in Detroit when Hull surrendered to the British, which so disgusted him, that he broke his sword across his knee and tossed it into the lake, saying that he would never submit to such a disgraceful compromise while the blood of an American flowed in his veins.

The ancestry of Joseph Smith includes many men and women who were sturdy pioneers in this country, coming here to escape oppression, or to find that breadth of liberty and expression which their natures demanded. Unflinchingly they faced the terrors and danger of this wild and unexplored county, and, gaining footholds, here and there, they helped to build prosperous New England towns. Their names Smith, French, Gould, Curtis, Towne, Bagley, Mack; Huntley, Colby, Gates, Spencer, Cone, etc., are found all through the records of those early days and to these pioneers doubtless their descendants owe many sound, noble and courageous characteristics. Enough has been written to disprove the slanderous statements made about the family of Joseph Smith. They were ever law abiding and loyal patriots, despising treachery, oppression and injustice.

In the light history throws upon his ancestors, do we .not find the source of his calm courage in the face of danger, his persistency in upholding what he believed to be true, and his fearlessness in preseating those convictions? Even his martyrdom had its prototype in the death of a Protestant ancestor, John Loomis, who was burned at the stake by Catholics, under Queen Mary in 1556. Oppression in any form, was obnoxious to Joseph Smith, and the disturbances which followed the settlement of the church in Missouri had much of its origin in the strong anti slavery sentiments they held. They believed that the Constitution of the United States made no distinction of color or race, when it declared that "all men are created free and equal." The late president of the church was most democratic and sympathetic in his attitude toward the black race.

Of the personal family ties of President Smith there is this to record. He married Miss Emma Griswold, at Nauvoo, October 22, 1856. She bore to him five children, two of whom Evelyn Rebecca and Joseph Arthur, died in infancy. His daughter Emma Josepha, born in Nauvoo in 1857, was married to Alexander McCallum in 1875. His second daughter, Carrie Lucinda, born at Nauvoo in 1861, married Francis M. Weld at Lamoni in 1887. Zaide Viola, born also in Nanvoo in 1863, was married to Richard S. Salyards in 1883. She died in 1891.

After the death of his wife, Emma, Mr. Smith married Miss Bertha Madison, at Sandwich, Illinois, in 1869. To this union were born nine children, two of whom, Kenneth and Blossom, died at birth, and two others, David Carlos and Bertha Azuba, at the ages respectively of fifteen and six years. Mary Audentia was born at Plano, Illinois, in 1872 and was married in 1891 to Benjamin M. Anderson. Frederick Madison was born at Plano in 1874, and in 1897 married Miss Ruth L. Cobb. He was named by his father as his successor in the presidency of the church. At the General Conference of 1915, Frederick M. was chosen president and so ordained at Independence, Missouri, his home, on May 5th following. Israel Alexander, born at Plano in 1876, married Miss Nina Grenawalt in 1908. Hale Washington, born at Plano in 1881, married Miss Rogene Munsell in 1905. Lucy Yeteve was born at Lamoni in 1884 and was married to Jesse M. Lysinger in 1906.

In 1896 Joseph Smith buried his wife Bertha and later married Miss Ada Rachel Clark at Toronto, Canada. Three sons came to bless this union, namely: Richard Clark in 1898; William Wallace in 1900; and Reginald Archer in 1903, all being born in Lamoni.

In 1903 President Smith went to England, his first trip to foreign lands, though he had preached in many states and territories in the United States as well as in many provinces of Canada. He visited Scotland and Wales also, returning late in the fall of the same year.

In August, 1906, he moved to Independence, Missouri. Later in the year he made a trip to Honolulu, in the performance of his ecclesiastical duties. His eyesight failed him, and he spent the last four years of his life in total darkness, so far as the physical was concerned. His mind however, retained to the last, its wonderful clarity and vigor, and his counsel was eagerly sought and wisely given.

All the sons and daughters of Joseph Smith, as well as the men and women who married into the family are members of the Reorganized Church.

When he was stricken with his last illness, his children gathered about him, Frederick coming from his studies at Clark University, Worcester, Massachusetts, Hale from his mission field in Alabama, and others from Lamina. For two weeks he lingered, in patience and sweet resignation awaiting the release of his weary spirit from its darkened tenement. Tenderly he counseled, and many were the scenes of the past which passed before his mind, and firmly he bore his dying testimony that Jesus was the Christ, and that he was not afraid to go to meet that Christ. Peacefully the end came at one o'clock in the afternoon of December 10, 1914.

From the many tributes to the life and character of Joseph Smith which found their way to the attention of the public at that time we select the following, an editorial in the Kansas City Journal for December 12, 1914:

In the ecclesiastical dogmas which made up the denominational belief of the late Joseph Smith the general public has no particular interest. But in the death of the late venerable head of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints the country loses an interesting and useful citizen. Joseph Smith was considerably more than a powerful churchman into whose keeping had been committed the destinies of one of the great denominations of the world. Those who ignorantly confounded the Reorganized Church with Mormonism, in the objectionable acceptation of that term, will not appreciate the theological distinctions between the two nor understand that nothing was more hateful to Joseph Smith than the doctrines of Brigham Young, with their polygamous teachings and all the other features which make Utah Mormonism obnoxious in the eyes of the average American.

But all who ever came in contact with Joseph Smith could readily appreciate the broad charity of his tenets, the untarnished private life he lived, the unswerving devotion to duty which he always displayed and the simple modesty of his relations toward his church and the world at large. To his church he was the prophet whom all its communicants revered, but he was also the unostentatious leader who constantly practiced the virtues which he enjoined upon his followers. To the world he was the blameless citizen who walked before all men as an example and whose interest in the movements that made for the welfare of the community always had his heartiest support.

Perhaps nothing could give a clearer insight into the character of Joseph Smith than the directions which he issued shortly before his death in respect to his funeral. Disliking nothing so much, next to sham, as ostentation, he directed that his funeral should be conducted with the utmost simplicity, without any of the elaborateness which his followers would otherwise have provided in order to testify to the honor in which they held him He was the prophet, but first of all he was the Christian gentleman and the good citizen. As such he lived, as such he died, as such he will be remembered by all outside the household of his faith His followers themselves can have no legacy of remembrance more honorable than this appraisement of the people among whom he lived and labored so many years Kindly, cheerful, loyal to his own creed, tolerant of those of others, standing for modesty, simplicity, good citizenship, embodying in his private and public life all the virtues which adorn a character worthy of emulation such is the revelation which Joseph Smith leaves to the world, as the real interpretation of an ecclesiastical message translated into terms of human character.

From:
History of Decatur County, Iowa
And its People
Vol II
The S. J. Clarke Publishing Co.
Chiago 1915


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