Joseph Knight, Sr. was born in 1772 in Massachusetts. He was known as a serious, hardworking man who was well respected by his neighbors. He owned a farm and was successful enough to care for his family and to help others, but was not wealthy.
In 1827, Joseph Smith was hired to work for Knight’s business partner, Josiah Stowell, to work for him shortly before the young prophet became the first leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (which church is frequently misnamed the “Mormon Church”), whose members are sometimes nicknamed Mormons. Stowell believed there was a mine hidden nearby and hired Joseph to dig until he found it. Joseph did so, but eventually convinced Stowell it was a waste of time. Joseph continued to have connections with both men and was eventually hired by Knight.
Joseph Knight and his family took a strong liking to the 21-year-old man, who was about the same age as one of Joseph Knight’s sons, and soon Joseph Smith was confiding in Joseph Knight about the work he had been called by God to do. Knight told his son that Joseph Smith was honest and hard-working, the best hired hand they’d ever hired. Knight and his namesake son believed what Joseph told them; the older sons did not initially accept it, although they liked Joseph Smith. Newell described the young prophet as a kind man.
Joseph Smith had seen the plates on which the Book of Mormon were written, but had been forbidden to take them until he was worthy and prepared. When the time finally came, Joseph Knight, Sr. came to his home with a carriage and horse and stayed several days. It was this carriage that Joseph Smith and his wife, Emma, used to go and get the plates. On the way home with them, they were attacked, although the attackers did not obtain the plates. When they returned home and reported the event, Joseph Knight and another man, also staying at Joseph Smith’s home, went out to try to find the men.
Once the plates were safely in Joseph’s possession, the work of translation began. Joseph Knight was interested in the work and frequently sent provisions to Joseph Smith’s home, allowing him to continue working without the need to spend as many hours earning a living.
Joseph Knight and his family accepted the Universalian doctrine but had chosen not to join a church. Universalians believed that everyone eventually goes to Heaven. Despite not being a Mormon, he was the subject of several revelations, which came more frequently in those early days of the Church. In one, he was reassured that anyone who wished to be called to serve God was called. In another, he was encouraged to add vocal prayers to his silent ones. In a third, God admonished him to join the church, since he had a testimony of it. Joseph did so and soon after the first conference, he and his wife were baptized. Knight had considered being baptized the day he watched Joseph Smith baptize the prophet’s own father, but wanted to wait until he had read the Book of Mormon. Later, he wished he had gotten baptized that first day, but he was the sort of man who made careful decisions.
The baptism was a challenging one. The previous day they had dammed up the stream, but mobs destroyed the dam overnight. The small group of church members rebuilt it and then carried out the baptism while facing the jeering of the mob. The mob, having been unable to prevent the baptisms, had Joseph arrested for being a disorderly person before he could carry out the confirmations. The mobs then proceeded to Knight’s home, where they destroyed wagons, piled rails against the doors, and caused other destruction. When Joseph Smith was cleared of the clearly manufactured charges, they had him arrested twice more in rapid succession, and each time, he was cleared, partly with the help of Knight’s testimony at each trial. Finally, Joseph was free to return home and to carry out the confirmations.
Persecution of Joseph Knight and his family intensified and they were eventually forced to flee their home in the middle of the night. The family began a series of migrations forced on them by mob violence. His wife died during one migration, the first person to die in Missouri. Her death came from illness that was intensified by the constant strain of persecution, but many other deaths there would come from violent attacks on the Saints. Her husband noted that she had refused to die until they reached Missouri, which she hoped would become their faith’s Zion.
Joseph Smith always considered Joseph Knight to be a good friend, one of the first to volunteer his efforts on behalf of the restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He wrote of Joseph Knight, Sr.:
“[He] was among the number of the first to administer to my necessities. … For fifteen years he has been faithful and true, and even-handed and exemplary, and virtuous and kind, never deviating from the right hand or to the left. Behold, he is a righteous man, may God Almighty lengthen out the old man’s days; and may his trembling, tortured, and broken body be renewed, … and it shall be said of him, by the sons of Zion, while there is one of them remaining, that this man was a faithful man in Israel.”
Knight died in Iowa, yet another stop on the search for religious freedom, in 1847.
Every Person in the Doctrine and Covenants by Lynn F. Price, Cedar Fort, 2007
The Joseph Knight Family, Larry Porter, Ensign, October, 1978
Terrie Lynn Bittner
The late Terrie Lynn Bittner—beloved wife, mother, grandmother, and friend—was the author of two homeschooling books and numerous articles, including several that appeared in Latter-day Saint magazines. She became a member of the Church at the age of 17 and began sharing her faith online in 1992.