Joseph Smith, Jr. (December 23, 1805 – June 27, 1844) was an American religious leader and the founder of the Latter Day Saint movement, which gave rise to Mormonism. Smith is regarded by his followers as aprophet.
Smith was born in Sharon, Vermont, the fourth child of Joseph Smith, Sr. and Lucy Mack Smith. By 1817, Smith's family had moved to the "burned-over district" of western New York, an area repeatedly swept by religious revivals during the Second Great Awakening. Smith family members held divergent views about organized religion, but they believed in visions and prophecies and engaged in folk religious practices typical of the era.
According to Smith, beginning in the early 1820s he had visions, in one of which an angel directed him to a buried book of golden plates, inscribed with a Christian history of ancient American civilizations. In 1830, he published an English translation of these plates as the Book of Mormon, and organized the Church of Christ, as the restoration of the early Christian church. Church members were later called Latter Day Saints, Saints, or Mormons.
In 1831, Smith moved west to Kirtland, Ohio intending to establish a city of Zion in western Missouri, but Missouri settlers expelled the Saints in 1833. After leading Zion's Camp, an unsuccessful expedition to recover the land, Smith began building a temple in Kirtland. In 1837, the Kirtland Safety Society, a bank established by Smith and other church leaders, collapsed. The following year Smith joined his followers in northern Missouri, where earlier settlers fearing the rapid growth of Mormon communities fought them in the 1838 Mormon War. The Saints were defeated and expelled from Missouri, and Smith was imprisoned.
After being allowed to escape state custody in 1839, Smith led his followers to settle at Nauvoo, Illinois on Mississippi River swampland. There he served as both mayor and commander of its large militia, the Nauvoo Legion. In early 1844, he announced his candidacy for President of the United States. That summer, after the Nauvoo Expositor criticized Smith's practice of polygamy and called for the repeal of the Nauvoo Charter, the Nauvoo City Council ordered the paper's destruction. During the ensuing turmoil, Smith first declared martial law and then surrendered to the governor of Illinois. Although the governor promised his safety, Smith was murdered while awaiting trial in Carthage, Illinois.
Smith's followers regard many of his publications as scripture. His teachings include unique views about the nature of God, cosmology, family structures, political organization, and religious collectivism. He is seen as one of the most charismatic and inventive figures of American history, and his followers regard him as a prophet of at least the stature of Moses and Elijah. Smith's legacy includes a number of religious denominations, including the Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Missouri-based Community of Christ, which collectively claim a growing membership of more than 14 million worldwide.