JOSEPH SMITH Jr. (December 23, 1805 – June 27, 1844)

Another American group new to the West in the antebellum period was the Mormons. In 1830, Joseph Smith founded a religious sect named the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Fayette, New York. Smith was an important political figure in the United States. In the late 1820s, Smith announced that an angel Moroni had given him a set of golden plates engraved with a chronicle of ancient American peoples, which he had a unique gift to translate. In 1830, he published the resulting narratives as the Book of Mormon and founded the Church of Christ in western New York, claiming it to be a restoration of early Christianity.

Followers were called Mormons after the angel Moroni, who was said to have given Smith the plates, which he published as the Book of Mormon. The Mormons moved west as they faced persecution from Christians and other non-Mormons.

Zion’s Camp was a paramilitary expedition of Latter Day Saints, led by Joseph Smith, Jr., from Kirtland, Ohio to Clay County, Missouri during May and June 1834 in an unsuccessful attempt to regain land from which the Saints had been expelled by non-Mormon settlers. In Latter Day Saint belief, this land had been destined to become a city of Zion, the center of the Millennial kingdom; and Smith dictated a command from God ordering him to lead his church like a modern Moses to redeem Zion “by power, and with a stretched-out arm.”[1]

The expedition was a failure. The march to Missouri was poorly planned and beset with mishaps, including a near mutiny. Receiving word of the approaching Latter Day Saints, the Missourians formed their own militias, which outnumbered Smith’s men. Smith then dictated another revelation stating that the church was presently unworthy to “redeem Zion” because of its lack of commitment to the United Order, a form of religious communism,[2] and must “wait a little season” until its elders could receive their promised endowment of heavenly power.[3] The expedition was disbanded on July 25, 1834, during a cholera epidemic, and a majority of survivors returned to Ohio. Nevertheless, the failed expedition permitted Smith to determine his most loyal followers, and many of these men were thereafter given positions of religious leadership.

The Kirtland Safety Society (KSS) was a quasi-bank organized in 1836 (and reorganized on January 2, 1837) by leaders and followers of the Church of the Latter Day Saints. According to KSS’s 1837 “Articles of Agreement”, it was intended to serve the banking needs of the growing Mormon community in Kirtland, Ohio. Its preamble stated it was:

…for the promotion of our temporal interests, and for the better management of our different occupations, which consist in agriculture, mechanical arts, and merchandising.

However, by November 1837, KSS failed and its business closed. In the aftermath, Mormon leader Joseph Smith was fined for running an illegal bank, many bankrupted Mormons left the church because they believed Smith had established the bank in order to enrich himself and the Mormon leadership, and Smith and his associates fled to Missouri.[1]

This hostility was still present in the western territories, and the Mormons were unsuccessful in their attempts to settle in Ohio, Missouri and Illinois.  Tensions escalated into violent conflicts with the old Missouri settlers. Believing the Saints to be in insurrection, the Missouri governor ordered their expulsion from Missouri, and Smith was imprisoned on capital charges.

After escaping state custody in 1839, Smith directed the conversion of a swampland into Nauvoo, Illinois, where he became both mayor and commander of a nearly autonomous militia. In 1843, he announced his candidacy for President of the United States. The following year, after the Nauvoo Expositor criticized his power and such new doctrines as plural marriage, Smith and the Nauvoo city council ordered the newspaper’s destruction as a nuisance. In a futile attempt to check public outrage, Smith first declared martial law, then surrendered to the governor of Illinois. He was killed by a mob while awaiting trial in Carthage, Illinois.

Smith was killed by a crowd in Illinois in 1844, after which Brigham Young took over leadership. Young led the Mormons to a place of safe haven, and, in 1847, they reached Utah’s Great Salt Lake Valley, which was located in Mexico at the time. There, they founded Salt Lake City, in what would become Utah. Through dedicated hard work, the Mormons were able to convert the seemingly barren land into a prosperous region. (fromWikipedia, and

Society Flourishes in Salt Lake City
Over the next two decades, tens of thousands of people, converted to the faith by Mormon missionaries, migrated to Great Salt Lake City, as it was then called. Many immigrated from as far away as Great Britain and Scandinavia; one such convert was an Englishman named Philip Margetts, who came in 1850.

After the Angel Moroni (who, we should add, returned and retrieved from Smith the golden plates), several other angelic messengers also came bearing “keys” pertaining to the true church of God–priestly powers and consecrations lost in the great apostasy overtaking Christianity after its first centuries. John the Baptist appeared and ordained Smith and a disciple to the lesser, or Aaronic, priesthood, granting the authority to baptize. Next came a visitation of the apostles Peter, James and John, who ordained Joseph to the higher priesthood after the ancient order of Melchizedek. By 1836, Elijah, Moses, and Christ had all appeared to the new prophet, restoring the fullness of God’s power and truth. By the Spring of 1844 rumors of his multiple marriages and sexual liaisons, of strange rituals and unorthodox teachings, heralded growing turmoil within the Mormon community. Plots abounded. Events were quickly escalating towards scandal and open schism. In early June prominent Mormon dissidents assembled a press in Nauvoo with the intent to publish a paper exposing Smith’s secret teachings, including the practice called polygamy. The first (and only) issue of the paper did just that, creating an intolerable situation for Smith. He responded by declaring the press a public nuisance and ordering it destroyed. By the Spring of 1844 rumors of his multiple marriages and sexual liaisons, of strange rituals and unorthodox teachings, heralded growing turmoil within the Mormon community. Plots abounded. Events were quickly escalating towards scandal and open schism. In early June prominent Mormon dissidents assembled a press in Nauvoo with the intent to publish a paper exposing Smith’s secret teachings, including the practice called polygamy. The first (and only) issue of the paper did just that, creating an intolerable situation for Smith. He responded by declaring the press a public nuisance and ordering it destroyed.(

Joseph Smith and his father were involved in the occult practice known as “money digging.” This involved special rituals and ceremonies which were performed for the purpose of obtaining buried treasure thought to be guarded by evil spirits. Accounts of money digging during the late 1700s and early 1800s are documented in Alan Taylor’s article “Treasure Seeking in the American Northeast.” Joseph’s Involvement in Occultism. Joseph Smith, Jr.’s role in the quest for treasure was especially important since he had a seer stone. Joseph would place this small, special rock in his hat then pull the hat up to his face to block out all light. By doing this he claimed he could see supernaturally, and would help those who were digging by locating the place where the treasure was buried and observing the spirits that were guarding it. Joseph Jr., himself admitted to being a money digger, though he said it was never very profitable for him (History of the Church, V. 3, p. 29). He and his father’s money digging continued until at least 1826. On March 20th of that year Joseph was arrested, brought before a judge, and charged with being a “glass-looker” and a disorderly person. The laws at that time had what was known as the “Vagrant Act.” It defined a disorderly person as one who pretended to have skill in the areas of palmistry, telling fortunes or discovering where lost goods might be found. According to court records Justice Neely determined that Joseph was guilty, though no penalty was administered, quite possibly because this was a first offense (Inventing Mormonism, Marquardt and Walters, SLC: Signature Books, 1994, pp. 74-75).

Occultism and the Start of Mormonism. Shortly after this Joseph discontinued money digging but kept his seer stone. It was with the seer stone that he claimed to both find the plates and later produce the Book of Mormon. This was known by early converts but has since been replaced with later accounts of an angelic visitor. This transition was aided by downplaying the fact that Moroni was a dead Indian warrior, and by referring to him as an angel. Former BYU professor and historian D. Michael Quinn writes:

During this period from 1827 to 1830, Joseph Smith abandoned the company of his former money-digging associates, but continued to use for religious purposes the brown seer stone he had previously employed in the treasure quest. His most intensive and productive use of the seer stone was in the translation of the Book of Mormon. But he also dictated several revelations to his associates through the stone (Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, D. Michael Quinn, Signature Books, SLC, 1987, p. 143.

This fact is supported by LDS author Richard S. Van Wagoner who found,

This stone, still retained by the First Presidency of the LDS Church, was the vehicle through which the golden plates were discovered and the medium through which their interpretation came (Sidney Rigdon: A Portrait of Religious Excess, Signature Books, SLC, 1994, p. 57).

Thus we see that historians have documented a continuity between Joseph’s early occultic practices and the origins of Mormonism. This link extends to the development of the LDS Temple ceremony.

Occultic Parallels in the LDS Temple Ceremony. Historian D. Michael Quinn has done extensive research on rites and ancient mysteries related to occultism.

Masonic Themes Related to the Book of Mormon. John L. Brooke in his book The Refiner’s Fire: The Making of Mormon Cosmology, 1644-1844, noted the following in reference to the story of the discovery of the gold plates and the narrative structure of the Book of Mormon:

Freemasonry provides a point of entry into this very complex story. As it had been in Vermont, Masonic fraternity was a dominant feature of the cultural landscape in Joseph Smith’s Ontario County …. The dense network of lodges and chapters helps explain the Masonic symbolism that runs through the story of the discovery of the Golden Plates. Most obviously, the story of their discovery in a stone vault on a hilltop echoed the Enoch myth of Royal Arch Freemasonry, in which the prophet Enoch, instructed by a vision, preserved the Masonic mysteries by carving them on a golden plate that he placed in an arched stone vault marked with pillars, to be rediscovered by Solomon. In the years to come the prophet Enoch would play a central role in Smith’s emerging cosmology. Smith’s stories of his discoveries got more elaborate with time, and in June 1829 he promised Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer and Martin Harris that they would see not only the plates but other marvelous artifacts: the Urim and Thummim attached to a priestly breastplate, the ‘sword of Laban,’ and ‘miraculous directors.’ Oliver Cowdery and Lucy Mack Smith later described three or four small pillars holding up the plates. All of these artifacts had Masonic analogues.

… Smith’s sources for these Masonic symbols were close at hand. Most obviously, Oliver Cowdery would have been a source, given that his father and brother were Royal Arch initiates; one Palmyra resident remembered Oliver Cowdery as ‘no church member and a Mason.’ … A comment by Lucy Mack Smith in her manuscript written in the 1840s, protesting that the family did not abandon all household labor to try ‘to win the faculty of Abrac, drawing magic circles, or sooth-saying,’ suggests a familiarity with Masonic manuals: the ‘faculty of Abrac’ was among the supposed Masonic mysteries (Refiner’s Fire, Cambridge University Press, 1994, pp. 157-158).

However, it wasn’t until later in life that Joseph’s involvement became more personal.

Joseph’s Personal Involvement in Freemasonry. Mormon Apostle John A. Widtsoe stated:

Many of the Saints were Masons, such as Joseph’s brother Hyrum, Heber C. Kimball, Elijah Fordham, Newel K. Whitney, James Adams, and John C. Bennett …. With the acquiescence of the Prophet, members of the Church already Masons petitioned the Grand Master of Illinois for permission to set up a lodge in Nauvoo …. it was March 15, 1842, before authority was given to set up a lodge in Nauvoo and to induct new members. Joseph Smith became a member (Evidences and Reconciliations, 1 volume, pp. 357-358).

Joseph Smith admitted to being a Mason in his History of the Church, volume 4, page 551. Under the date of March 15, 1842 it reads: “In the evening I received the first degree in Free Masonry in the Nauvoo Lodge, assembled in my general business office.” The record for the next day reads, “I was with the Masonic Lodge and rose to the sublime degree” (page