Joseph Smith Timeline
Joseph Smith: Legacy of a Prophet
Highlights in the Prophet’s Life
Joseph Smith’s thirty-eight and one-half years were marked by the highest of spiritual peaks and the depths of tribulation, sorrow, and betrayal such as few mortals have experienced. It was in the hearts of some who knew him to be his brothers and sisters for eternity, and in the hearts of others to shed his blood. In the end, the latter group celebrated a short season of seeming triumph, while the former received the assurance of heaven that their desire would be granted: “Millions shall know ‘Brother Joseph’ again” (Hymns, 1985, no. 27).
The following timeline puts some of his work, joys, and sorrows into their time and setting.
1805, December 23: Born, Sharon Township, Windsor County, Vermont. (The Smith family lived in seven locations between Joseph’s birth and the First Vision: Sharon, Tunbridge, and South Royalton, Vermont; West Lebanon, New Hampshire; Norwich, Vermont; the village of Palmyra, and Palmyra Township, New York.)
1813: Contracts typhus during an epidemic, undergoes leg operation at West Lebanon, Grafton County, New Hampshire.
1816: Smith family moves to the village of Palmyra, Ontario County, New York.
1820, early spring: Sees First Vision, Manchester Township, Ontario County, New York. 1
1823, September 21–22 : First instructed by angel Moroni.
November 19: Brother Alvin dies, Palmyra Township.
1824, September 22: Instructed by angel Moroni at Hill Cumorah.
1825, September 22: Instructed by angel Moroni at Hill Cumorah.
1826, March 20: Tried and acquitted on fanciful charge of being a “disorderly person,” South Bainbridge, Chenango County, New York. New York law defined a disorderly person as, among other things, a vagrant or a seeker of “lost goods.” The Prophet had been accused of both: the first charge was false and was made simply to cause trouble; Joseph’s use of a seer stone to see things that others could not see with the naked eye brought the second charge. Those who brought the charges were apparently concerned that Joseph might bilk his employer, Josiah Stowell, out of some money. Mr. Stowell’s testimony clearly said this was not so and that he trusted Joseph Smith. 2
September 22: Instructed by angel Moroni at Hill Cumorah.
1827, January 18: Marries Emma Hale, South Bainbridge.
September 22: Obtains Book of Mormon plates from angel Moroni at Hill Cumorah.
1828, February: In New York City, Professor Charles Anthon certifies authenticity of Book of Mormon characters, then withdraws certification, offers to translate the gold plates himself. Learning that part of the plates are sealed, he says, in fulfillment of prophecy (Isaiah 29:11), “I cannot read a sealed book.”
April 12: Joseph Smith commences translation of the Book of Mormon with Martin Harris as scribe, Harmony, Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania.
June 14: Martin Harris leaves Harmony with 116 translated pages of the Book of Lehi. The pages are stolen in Palmyra Township, June–July 1828.
June 15: First son, Alvin, born; dies within hours, Harmony.
July: Joseph’s first known recording of a revelation immediately after receiving it (Doctrine and Covenants 3).
July: Interpreters and plates are taken from the Prophet by angel Moroni.
September 22: Interpreters and plates returned to the Prophet by angel Moroni, Harmony.
1829, April 5: Oliver Cowdery arrives at Harmony from New York; translation recommences on 7 Apr. 1829.
May 15: Joseph and Oliver receive Aaronic Priesthood from John the Baptist, Harmony, Pennsylvania.
May–June: Joseph and Oliver receive the Melchizedek Priesthood from Peter, James, and John on the banks of the Susquehanna River.
June: Finishes Book of Mormon translation at Fayette, Seneca County, New York. 3
June: Three witnesses view the plates, see angel Moroni, hear the voice of God, Fayette.
June: Eight witnesses see and handle the plates, Manchester Township.
June 11: Copyright of the Book of Mormon obtained.
June–July: Returns home to Harmony, with Emma.
1830, early: After the editor of The Reflector (Palmyra) prints extracts from the unpublished Book of Mormon in January of 1830, the Prophet briefly travels to Palmyra from Harmony to stop unauthorized publishing.
March 26: The Book of Mormon is made available to the public at E. B. Grandin’s Bookstore, Palmyra.
April 6: Officially organizes the Church at Fayette. (Priesthood offices of deacon, teacher, priest, and elder announced. See Doctrine and Covenants 20.)
April–July: Opens the public ministry of the Church: Fayette, Colesville, and Manchester, New York.
June: Receives revelation of Moses, chapter 1, as part of his translation of the Bible (exact date unknown). The Prophet’s revision of the Bible is an ongoing project.
June 9: First conference of the Church, Fayette.
June 30–March 1831: Continues translating the writings of Moses (chapters 2–8).
Last week of August: With Emma, moves to Fayette from Harmony.
December: Receives revelation requiring the Church to be gathered to “the Ohio” (Doctrine and Covenants 37).
On or about February 1: Arrives in Kirtland, Geauga County, Ohio. (The seat of Church government would be in Kirtland for the next seven years.)
February 4: Edward Partridge called as first bishop (Doctrine and Covenants 41).
April 30: Joseph and Emma’s twins, Louisa and Thaddeus, born; they live only three hours.
May 9: Joseph and Emma adopt Joseph and Julia Murdock.
June 3: Office of high priest announced at fourth general conference of the Church.
June 19: Starts for Missouri to designate the “land of Zion.”
July 20: Independence, Jackson County, Missouri, designated the center place for Zion and its temple (Doctrine and Covenants 57).
August 9: Leaves Independence; arrives in Kirtland 27 Aug. 1831.
September 12: Moves to Hiram, Portage County, Ohio.
December 4, 1831–(approx.) January 10, 1832: Preaches in Kirtland and Ravenna, Ohio, area to counter negative newspaper articles by Ezra Booth in the Ohio Star (see Doctrine and Covenants 71).
1832, February 16: Receives, with Sidney Rigdon, vision of the three degrees of glory (Doctrine and Covenants 76).
March 24: With Sidney Rigdon, tarred and feathered at Hiram by opponents of the Church. (Adopted son, Joseph Murdock, dies on 29 Mar. 1832 in consequence of exposure suffered at this time.)
April 1: Travels to Zion (Jackson County, Missouri); returns to Kirtland in June 1832.
October–November: Mission to Albany, New York City, and Boston with Newel K. Whitney (see Doctrine and Covenants 84:114).
November 6: Joseph Smith III born a few hours before Joseph’s return home to Kirtland from mission to the East.
December 25: Receives revelation and prophecy on war (Doctrine and Covenants 87).
Beginning December 27: Receives the “Olive Leaf” revelation (Doctrine and Covenants 88).
1833, January 22–23: Organizes School of the Prophets (see Doctrine and Covenants 88:70–80, 117–141) at Kirtland.
February 27: Receives Word of Wisdom (Doctrine and Covenants 89).
March 18: Organizes the First Presidency from presidency of the High Priesthood, Kirtland.
July 23: Kirtland Temple cornerstones laid.
October 5–November 4: Mission to Canada. On this mission the Prophet travels to Springfield, Pennsylvania; Westfield, Perrysburg, Lodi, and Buffalo, New York; and, in what was then called Upper Canada (now Ontario, Canada), to Mount Pleasant, Brantford, Colburn (Colborne), and Waterford.
November 22: Learns of the expulsion of Saints from Zion (Jackson County, Missouri) and the tragic consequences of Missouri mob action.
December 18: Office of evangelist, or patriarch, announced; first patriarchal blessings given.
1834, February 17: Organizes the “President’s Church Council,” shortly thereafter called the High Council, according to vision he had earlier received, in Kirtland (see Doctrine and Covenants 102).
May 5: Leaves Kirtland for Missouri, heading one of two branches of Zion’s Camp. The “Fishing River” revelation (Doctrine and Covenants 105) disbands Zion’s Camp, 22 June 1834. Returns to Kirtland the latter part of July 1834.
October: Visits Saints in Pontiac, Michigan.
1835, February 14: Organizes the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
February 28: Organizes the Quorum of the Seventy.
March 28: Receives revelation on priesthood (Doctrine and Covenants 107).
July: Egyptian mummies and papyri purchased.
1836, January 21: Receives revelation about celestial glory and departed brother Alvin (Doctrine and Covenants 137).
March 27: Dedicates Kirtland Temple (see Doctrine and Covenants 109).
March 29–30: Presides in Kirtland Temple as an endowment of power from on high, promised by the Lord five years earlier, falls upon a large group of priesthood leaders.
April 3: With Oliver Cowdery, receives series of visions in Kirtland Temple: The Lord appears and accepts the temple; Moses restores the keys of the gathering of Israel; Elias restores the keys of the dispensation of the gospel of Abraham (the eternal family order); Elijah restores the keys of fulness of the priesthood sealing power (Doctrine and Covenants 110).
June 20: Son, Frederick Granger Williams Smith, born at Kirtland.
July 25–September: Mission to Salem, Massachusetts, area (see Doctrine and Covenants 111).
November 2: Helps organize Kirtland Safety Society Bank.
1837, beginning April 6: Second solemn assembly held in Kirtland Temple.
May: In Kirtland, a major internal Church dissension begins with the economic “Panic of 1837.”
June: Sends first missionaries to England; they arrive 19 July 1837.
July 27: Leaves to visit Saints in Toronto, Canada; returns in latter part of Aug. 1837. 4
September 27–December 10: Travels to conference in Missouri and returns.
1838, January 12: Leaves Kirtland to escape mob violence associated with Kirtland apostasy.
March 14: Arrives with family in Far West, Caldwell County, Missouri.
June 2: Son, Alexander Hale Smith, born at Far West.
August 6: Some Latter-day Saints suffer in election-day violence at Gallatin, Daviess County, Missouri.
October 9: The Prophet records that in answer to Latter-day Saint pleas for protection from increasing mob violence, Missouri Governor Lilburn W. Boggs replied that “‘the quarrel was between the Mormons and the mob,’ and that ‘we might fight it out.’” 5
October 11: Leads Saints from DeWitt, Carroll County, Missouri, to Far West.
October 25: Battle of Crooked River, death of Elder David W. Patten of the Twelve, and death of a Missouri state militiaman.
October 27: Responding to false and inflammatory reports that the Saints are committing aggressive actions, Governor Boggs issues his “extermination order” against them at Jefferson City, Missouri.
October 30: Murderous attack on Latter-day Saints at Haun’s Mill, Daviess County, Missouri.
October 31: The Prophet and other Church leaders are taken prisoners at what they are told will be a peace talk with leaders of the Missouri state militia besieging Far West.
November 1: Arbitrarily and without any foundation, the Prophet is sentenced to death “as a warning to the Mormons” after an irregular court martial; the Prophet’s life is spared through the courage of General Alexander W. Doniphan. Members of the state militia plunder the town. 6
December 1: After an irregular court of inquiry in Richmond, the Prophet and several others are imprisoned in Liberty Jail, Clay County, Missouri, to await later trial on false charges of “treason” and “murder.” The charge of treason had to do with the Saints’ resisting the mob-militia, and the charge of murder was due to the death of one of these militiamen during the Battle of Crooked River. Joseph Smith was accused of being an accessory though he was not present. 7
April 16: On the way to trial at Columbia, Boone County, Missouri (after winning a change of venue), is allowed to escape by guards.
April 22: Joins family at Quincy, Adams County, Illinois.
May 10: Moves with Saints to Commerce (later Nauvoo), Hancock County, Illinois.
June 27–approx. August 8: Trains members of the Twelve Apostles before their second major mission to England.
July 21–22: Great days of healing, Commerce (Nauvoo), Illinois, and Montrose, Iowa.
October 29, 1839–March 4, 1840: Travels to Washington, D.C., to present to Congress the redress petitions for the Missouri grievances of the Saints. His visits with both President Martin Van Buren (29 Nov. 1839) and members of Congress prove fruitless.
1840, September 14: Joseph Smith, Sr., passes away in Nauvoo shortly after delivering deathbed assurances to his sons: that Joseph will complete his mission and that Hyrum should assume the patriarchal priesthood.
October 5: At the Prophet’s request, his scribe, Robert B. Thompson, reads in general conference Joseph Smith’s “Treatise on Priesthood,” apparently the only discourse of the Prophet for which we have an exact text. 8
1841, January 19: Receives revelation instructing the priesthood to build the Nauvoo Temple and Nauvoo House; key priesthood officers specified (Doctrine and Covenants 124).
February 1: Elected to Nauvoo City Council.
February 4: Elected lieutenant general of the Nauvoo Legion (city militia).
Spring: Performs first eternal marriage sealing.
April 6: Nauvoo Temple cornerstones laid.
June 5: Arrested again on false Missouri charges of treason and murder dating from his arrest and imprisonment in Liberty Jail, the intent being to return him to Missouri for trial; writ for arrest is dismissed on 10 June 1841. The Prophet said his defense relied in part on the fact “that the indictment, in Missouri, was obtained by fraud, bribery and duress, all of which I was prepared to prove.” 9
August 7: Brother, Don Carlos, dies, at Nauvoo.
November 8: Dedicates baptismal font in basement of Nauvoo Temple. The first baptisms for the dead performed in the font were on 21 Nov. 1841.
1842, January 5: Begins operating a general store in Nauvoo (known as the Red Brick Store).
February: Becomes managing editor of Times and Seasons.
February 7: Son dies at birth (no name given).
March 1: Begins publishing the Book of Abraham.
March 17: Organizes women in the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo.
May 4: In an upper room of the Red Brick Store at Nauvoo, the Prophet administers the first extended endowment ordinances; nine men receive them, including Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, and Willard Richards.
May 19: Elected mayor of Nauvoo.
August 6: Prophesies Saints will continue to suffer persecution and will be driven to Rocky Mountains.
August 8: Goes into hiding after arrest warrants without any foundation are issued, falsely charging him with complicity in an attempt to assassinate Missouri Governor Lilburn W. Boggs; the charges signal that the Church’s Missouri enemies will go to any length to capture the Prophet. (Similar trumped-up charges by Missouri enemies would dog the Prophet for the rest of his life.)
August: In hiding, records poignant expressions of gratitude for those who have assisted him from the beginning of his ministry.
September 1, 6: By letter, announces new guidelines for administration of baptisms for the dead (Doctrine and Covenants 127, 128).
December 26: Voluntarily surrenders to arrest in Nauvoo on the far-fetched Missouri charge of attempted assassination of Lilburn W. Boggs.
1843, January 5: Is released by a federal judge in Springfield on a ruling that he is protected from arrest because of his Illinois citizenship.
May 28: Sealed to Emma Smith for time and eternity.
June 11: Preaches on purpose of the gathering and of the building of the temple.
June 13–July 1: State officials in league with a Missouri sheriff and an Illinois constable conspire to arrest the Prophet at the home of his wife’s relatives in Dixon Township, Illinois, intending to whisk him away to Missouri; his friends foil the plan, and the Prophet wins release in the courts.
July 12: Revelation on celestial marriage recorded (Doctrine and Covenants 132).
December: Prophet places Brigham Young in charge of overseeing temple ordinance meetings in his absence.
1844, January 29: Prophet announces candidacy for President of the United States.
February 20: Instructs the Twelve Apostles to oversee organization and outfitting of exploring parties to search out a new location for the Saints in the West.
February 25: Prophesies that Saints will be out of hands of enemies within five years. (First group of Saints arrive in Salt Lake Valley July 1847.)
March: Delivers Last Charge to the Twelve Apostles, putting responsibility for the work of the kingdom on their shoulders.
April 7: Delivers King Follett Discourse, a doctrinal landmark.
May 17: Nominated as U.S. presidential candidate by Nauvoo convention.
June 7: Nauvoo Expositor published, inciting anger and fear in Nauvoo: anger for its vilification of the Prophet and its accusations against other Church leaders; fear from its call for a repeal of the Nauvoo charter so that local government would be taken out of the hands of the Saints.
June 10: Concluding that they are operating within the prerogatives granted by the Nauvoo charter granted to the city by the state of Illinois, the city council passes an ordinance and directs the Prophet as mayor to “abate” the Nauvoo Expositor as a “nuisance”; the press is destroyed. 10
June 25: Voluntarily surrenders to constable at Carthage, Hancock County, Illinois, on charges of inciting a riot, language used to describe Joseph’s action in destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor; the Prophet then is charged with treason for having declared martial law in Nauvoo.
June 27: Martyred at Carthage with brother Hyrum.
June 29: Buried with Brother Hyrum in Nauvoo. 11
1. The “Sacred Grove” lies both in Palmyra and Manchester Townships. Where did Joseph receive his vision? He cites Manchester. See Joseph Smith—History 1:5, 14.
2. Gordon A. Madsen, “Joseph Smith’s 1826 Trial: The Legal Setting,” Brigham Young University Studies, Spring 1990, p. 93.
3. It has been estimated that the total working time devoted to translation of the book after April 7 could have been as little as sixty-three days! The pace is all the more impressive when one considers the time devoted during this period not only to ordinary daily activities but also to other historic accomplishments of the Restoration. See John W. Welch and Tim Rathbone, “The Translation of the Book of Mormon: Basic Historical Information,” Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies paper no. WRR–86, 1986, pp. 38–39.
4. History of the Church, 2:503.
5. Ibid., 3:157.
6. The Prophet recalled that they were sentenced to be shot “as a warning to the ‘Mormons.’ ” The sentence was not carried out because Doniphan refused to obey a direct order from Samuel D. Lucas, general in command of the militia, replying: “It is cold-blooded murder. I will not obey your order … and if you execute these men, I will hold you responsible before an earthly tribunal” (History of the Church, 3:190–91).
7. Ibid., 3:209–13, 464–65.
8. See History of the Church, 4:207–12; The Words of Joseph Smith—the Contemporary Accounts of the Nauvoo Discourses of the Prophet Joseph, comp. Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook (Orem, Utah: Grandin Book Co., 1993), pp. 38–44, 50–51.
9. History of the Church, 6:367.
10. Ibid., 6:432.
11. To prevent enemies from carrying out threats to steal the bodies, friends secretly buried Joseph and Hyrum in the basement of the Nauvoo House after pine boxes supposedly containing the bodies were given a public burial. Sometime later, the Prophet and his brother were reburied in another location, under the spring house near the Joseph Smith homestead in Nauvoo. In January 1928, they were reburied a little higher on the hill.