Samuel H. Smith was born on March 13 or 14, 1808, in Tunbridge, Vermont. His parents were Joseph Smith, Sr., and Lucy Mack Smith. Samuel was the younger brother of the Mormon prophet, Joseph Smith. Mormon is a nickname sometimes used to describe members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Samuel’s family was not wealthy and they worked very hard at a variety of tasks in order to stay alive. They were primarily farmers but also sold products of their own making to supplement their farm income. As a young boy, Samuel became a Presbyterian with his mother and siblings Hyrum and Sophronia.
When his older brother, Joseph Smith, received a revelation and then was called to help bring a restoration of the gospel, Samuel did not automatically accept what his brother taught. In time, he used the same method Joseph had used to find out what church was true. He went into the woods and asked God in prayer. There he received a personal revelation of the truthfulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ that his brother taught. He served as a scribe for a brief time for his brother, who was translating the Book of Mormon.
When his brother Joseph organized The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Samuel was one of the six legally required representatives to attend the first meeting. He was the third person to be baptized. He had the privilege of being one of the eight official witnesses of the Book of Mormon, who were allowed to see and touch the plates on which the book had been written. His testimony, combined with that of the other witnesses, can be read online.
At the first Church conference, Samuel was ordained an elder (a level of lay priesthood). Samuel Smith became noted as a person with an unusual gift for spiritual healing, including healing his mother from partial blindness. At the conference, he was called to be a missionary and was sent to the Eastern States. With this assignment, he became the very first official Mormon missionary. He served first in the area around Kirtland, Ohio, traveling alone without the training and support today’s Mormon missionaries have, and without a companion to help him.
In 1830, he sold a copy of the Book of Mormon to Phineas Young, who told his wife he was going to read it in order to expose its errors. Phineas read it twice, but found himself instead with a testimony of its truthfulness. He was a minister and taught his congregation about it the following Sunday, when they asked him what he had thought of the book. He converted his brother Brigham Young, who would become the second Mormon prophet and lead the Mormons across the country to Utah. That same copy of the book converted Heber C. Kimball, who would become an important church leader later on.
In 1831, Samuel was ordained a high priest and sent to be a missionary in Missouri. This time he had a companion, Reynolds Cahoon. While on this mission, he and his companion taught William McClellan. McClellan was so impressed by the message of the gospel they brought him that he promptly closed his business and joined them on their journey to Missouri. When they arrived, they participated in the dedication of the land in Jackson County where the temple was planned to be built.
Samuel H. Smith and Reynolds Cahoon would continue to serve together as missionaries that year. In 1832, Samuel would begin to travel on missionary journeys with Orson Hyde. Together, they journeyed through a number of Eastern states, including Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Maine, a journey lasting nearly the entire year.
1833 found Samuel in Nauvoo, Illinois, where the Mormons then lived. Samuel was chosen to lay the foundation stone of the temple and was present at its dedication. The following year he was called to serve on the first High Council, a governing body of the church at a regional level. He married Mary Bailey on August 13, 1834.
In 1836, he again served a mission, this time to New York. In 1838, he went with his brother, Joseph Smith, to Missouri. Mob violence was rampant there, making it very dangerous for the Mormons who lived there. The government generally failed to protect the religious freedom or even the lives of the Mormons in Missouri, giving the mobs free reign. Samuel and his family were victims of the mobs, forced from their homes in winter and nearly dying of exposure as a result. In an attempt to save his people, he participated in the Battle of Crooked River that year.
During an episode of mob violence, a mob dragged Mary and her baby out of the house, placing them on a feather bed with her two toddlers. They then burnt down the house as she watched helplessly. A neighbor provided them with a wagon and Mary set out to find her husband, who was traveling. The rain was pouring and although she did find him—he was already on his way home, her health suffered intensely and she was unable to speak louder than a whisper. In 1841, Samuel was called to preside over the bishopric. (A bishop is a lay pastor and the bishopric consists of the bishop and two counselors.) Mary died just six days after his call, shortly after giving birth to a little girl. The newborn died a few days later.
Samuel had four children at the time of Mary’s death and was left with three, all younger than six, after the baby’s death. He served another mission later that year, leaving the children with family members, and married Levira Clark during the journey, as was common in that day for men left with children to raise. She and his children stayed with her parents until he completed his mission, at which time he moved his entire family to Nauvoo.
He became a farmer in Nauvoo, Illinois, and his daughter said he worked long, hard hours, even after darkness fell on his farm. In 1844, two of his brothers, Joseph and Hyrum, were murdered in Carthage. He hurried there after learning they were in danger. The journey was a dangerous one for a man known to be Joseph Smith’s brother. He was forced to escape into the woods during a direct attack by those who wanted to kill all the Smiths, after sending the teenager driving his wagon to flee alone. He made it home and then headed to Carthage. During the journey, he was shot at by men who had been lying in wait for him, but the bullet went through his hat and left him unharmed.
Samuel’s brothers were dead when he arrived. He helped to bring their bodies home to Nauvoo. Only one month later, he became ill, having suffered a great pain during the escape, and died of bilious fever. His wife took his children from his first marriage to live with the wife of Joseph Smith’s brother Hyrum, who had died with Joseph. She took her own baby to her parents’ home, where she gave birth to Samuel’s last child, a little girl who died shortly after. When the Mormons were forced to leave Nauvoo, his wife and children would continue the search for safety by traveling to Utah.
Every Person in the Doctrine and Covenants by Lynn F. Price, Cedar Fort, 2007
LaRene Porter Gaunt, Church Magazines and Robert A. Smith, President of the Samuel H. Smith Foundation, Samuel H. Smith: Faithful Brother of Joseph and Hyrum, Ensign, August 2008
Ryan Carr, The First Latter-day Missionary, Ensign, September 2004
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.