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  • Faith: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
  • Profession: 
  • Lived: 1805 - 1844 (Great Awakening)
  • Nationality: American
  • Known for: Founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
  • Fun Fact: 
  • Fun Fact: 
  • Fun Fact: 

When Joseph Smith was 12 years old, his family moved to Western New York, the center point of the Second Great Awakening. The family attended camp meetings and dabbled in spiritualism; his parents both believed they received messages from God through dreams. Smith came to believe the Christian Church had become corrupt and turned away from the true gospel, and that a restoration of the true Church was needed—a view shared by a number of Great Awakening movements including the Seventh Day Adventists and Shakers in the same West New York region.

In his late teens and early twenties while working as a treasure hunter and diviner, Smith says an angel showed him the location of a set of gold tablets in the woods, which give an alternate account of the history of Judeo-Christianity, recorded by Native Americans who had been exposed to this truth. Smith eventually published his purported translation of these tablets as the “Book of Mormon” and organized a church. He faced opposition from the start, both from people who knew him before as a treasure hunter, and from others who found his new church’s beliefs problematic. Smith and some followers left for Ohio to join some scouts from his church who had merged with a group of Campbellites (the movement which eventually became the Disciples of Christ). An outpost was established in Missouri as well but they were driven out by existing settlers. In 1838, as the Ohio community was falling apart over rivalries and financial troubles, and with a warrant out for Smith’s arrest on banking fraud, he and some followers headed to Missouri and joined those already there. Scuffles with locals escalated to the point of military conflict between Smith’s followers and the Missouri state militia, and he was arrested. While Smith was in prison, Brigham Young, head of one of the church leadership bodies, took effective control and relocated the church to Illinois.

After escaping custody, Smith and the others joined those in Illinois, bought land, and obtained state approval to charter a new city, which they called Nauvoo. Much of the organizational structure of the LDS church developed in this period, as well as doctrinal changes. One of those was polygamy. Over the next few years, old charges and rivalries and political positioning continued to cause trouble for the community and Smith. In 1844, a group of former members started a newspaper to publish criticism of Smith and the church, and obtained an indictment against Smith for polygamy. While detained in a local jail, he was attacked by an angry mob and killed. During those last few years, though, the LDS Church had grown by thousands and, as most of its members followed Brigham Young to the Utah territory, it continued to grow and is now the fourth largest Christian denomination in America, with approximately 16 million members worldwide.

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