Evidence #271 | November 16, 2021

Hyrum Smith

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Scripture Central


Throughout his life, Hyrum Smith showed confidence in the claims of his younger brother, Joseph Smith. As one of the Eight Witnesses, Hyrum also stood by his testimony of seeing and handling the plates of the Book of Mormon, even in the face of persecution and, ultimately, martyrdom.

Hyrum Smith was already an adult by the time Joseph was telling his family about the visions he had received and the gold plates he was to translate.1 Hyrum was present when the plates were brought to the Smith home, and eventually affirmed, as one of the Eight Witnesses, that he had seen, handled, and hefted the plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated.2

Eight Witnesses View the Book of Mormon Plates, by Dale Kilbourn.

Despite being nearly six years his senior,3 Hyrum took Joseph’s claims seriously and willingly followed the lead of his younger brother. No one was a more loyal and faithful supporter of Joseph than Hyrum, but that loyalty came at a price. Hyrum went where Joseph did and therefore endured the same sufferings and persecutions. Through it all, Hyrum consistently testified of the Book of Mormon.

Hyrum’s only surviving first-hand affirmation of his testimony is contained in a letter addressed “to the Saints scattered abroad,”4 which he wrote in the wake of his harrowing experience in Liberty Jail.5 He justified his reason for the letter by referring to his testimony printed in the Book of Mormon:

Having given my testimony to the world of the truth of the book of Mormon, the renewal of the everlasting covenant, and the establishment of the Kingdom of heaven, in these last days; and having been brought into great afflictions and distresses for the same, I thought that it might be strengthening to my beloved brethren, to give them a short account of my sufferings, for the truth’s sake, and the state of my mind and feelings, while under the circumstances of the most trying and afflicting nature.6

After narrating the various hardships he endured after leaving Kirtland for Missouri, Hyrum directly affirmed that he had seen and handled the plates:

I had been abused and thrust into a dungeon, and confined for months on account of my faith, and the “testimony of Jesus Christ.” However I thank God that I felt a determination to die, rather than deny the things which my eyes had seen, which my hands had handled, and which I had borne testimony to, wherever my lot had been cast; and I can assure my beloved brethren that I was enabled to bear as strong a testimony, when nothing but death presented itself, as ever I did in my life.7

Others who heard Hyrum testify remembered him using similar language. Sally Parker, for instance, heard Hyrum say “he had but two hands and two eyes, He said he had seen the plates with his eyes and handled them with his hands.”8 In 1841, Joseph Fielding said that his sister—Hyrum’s wife, Mary Fielding—assured him that “her husband has seen and handled the plates.”9

In other instances, people reported that Hyrum simply reaffirmed the public statement of the Eight Witnesses. Some who heard him speak in Salem, Massachusetts, for instance, simply said, “we heard him declare, in this city in public, that what is recorded about the plates, etc. is God’s solemn truth.”10 Agnus Cannon remembered hearing him testify “to the divinity of the Book of Mormon and the appearance of the plates” when she was ten years old.11

Drawing of Hyrum Smith by George Edward Anderson (1860-1928). Image via Wikimedia Commons. 

William E. McLellin heard Hyrum share “his evidence of the truth of the book” to a congregation of about 500 people in 1831. A few weeks earlier, McLellin had a lengthy conversation with Hyrum, wherein he “inquired into the particulars of the coming forth of the record … and upon the testimonies given to him.”12 The next day, McLellin concluded, “I was bound as an honest man to acknowledge the truth and validity of the book of Mormon.”13

As Richard Lloyd Anderson observed regarding each of the Smiths among the Eight Witnesses, when it comes to Hyrum, one must “stress deeds more than words.”14 By all accounts Hyrum was a modest, quiet man who led primarily by example.15 All who knew him regarded him as a man of honesty and integrity,16 and he proved willing to endure severe persecutions for his loyalty to Joseph and faithfulness to his testimony.

While some may be tempted to dismiss his witness because he was Joseph’s brother, in many ways that makes his witness more compelling, not less. Hyrum once testified in court that he and Joseph had never been apart for more than six months since Joseph was born.17 Perhaps no one else was as closely familiar with all of Joseph’s “sayings, doings, business transactions and movements” as Hyrum was.18 As Joseph’s older, more mature, and more experienced brother, no one was in a better position than Hyrum to gauge whether Joseph was telling the truth when he spoke about the angel and the plates, or whether Joseph had the resources or skills to manufacture plates like the ones Hyrum directly examined.

Hyrum Smith, Ink on paper, Sutcliffe Maudsley, circa 1844. (Photograph at Church History Library, Salt Lake City.) Image via josephsmithpapers.com. 

The heavy strain of trying to collectively keep a secret or prop up a lie can often tear families and siblings apart—especially when under a crucible of suffering and persecution due to that very secret. Nor is enmity between brothers unheard of when power and influence are at stake. Such things can often drive a wedge between family members, but did not do so between Joseph and Hyrum.

Eventually, Hyrum’s resolve to die rather than deny what he knew was true was put directly to the test in 1844, when he and Joseph suffered martyrdom at Carthage jail. Significantly, this occurred shortly after they read from and testified of the Book of Mormon one final time. Thus, while other members of the Three and Eight Witnesses suffered persecution for the sake of the Book of Mormon, Hyrum is the only one who, as it were, sealed his testimony with his own life and blood.19


Larry E. Morris, A Documentary History of the Book of Mormon (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2019), 415–422.

Jeffrey S. O’Driscoll, Hyrum Smith: A Life of Integrity (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 2003).

Richard Lloyd Anderson, “Attempts to Redefine the Experience of the Eight Witnesses,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 14, no. 1 (2005): 18–31.

Richard Lloyd Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 1981), 137–149.

  • 1 See Lucy Mack Smith, History, 1845, pp. 85–87.
  • 2 See Testimony of Eight Witnesses.
  • 3 Hyrum was born February 9, 1800, and Joseph was born December 23, 1805. See “Smith, Hyrum,” Joseph Smith Papers Project, online at josephsmithpapers.org.
  • 4 Hyrum Smith, “To the Saints Scattered Abroad,” December 1839, Times and Seasons 1, no. 2 (December 1839), 20–24.
  • 5 Jeffrey S. O’Driscoll, Hyrum Smith: A Life of Integrity (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 2003), 187–204, discusses Hyrum’s experiences and hardships during his time in Liberty Jail.
  • 6 Smith, “To the Saints Scattered Abroad,” 20.
  • 7 Smith, “To the Saints Scattered Abroad,” 23.
  • 8 Sally Parker to John Kempton, August 26, 1838, in Janiece L. Johnson, “‘The Scriptures Is a Fulfilling’: Sally Parker’s Weave,” BYU Studies Quarterly 44, no. 2 (2005): 115.
  • 9 Joseph Fielding to Parley P. Pratt, June 20, 1841, in Millennial Star 2, no. 4 (August 1841): 52.
  • 10 Salem Advertiser and Argus, April 1843, as cited in Richard Lloyd Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 1981), 147.
  • 11 Salt Lake Historical Record, Jan. 25, 1888, as cited in Anderson, Investigating, 146.
  • 12 William E. McLellin, Journal, August 19 and September 10, 1831, in The Journals of William E. McLellin, 1831–1836, ed. Jan Shipps and John W. Welch (Provo, UT: BYU Studies; Urbana and Chicago, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1994), 33, 39.
  • 13 McLellin, Journal, August 20, 1831, in Journals of William E. McLellin, 33.
  • 14 Anderson, Investigating, 138.
  • 15 See O’Driscoll, Hyrum Smith, xv.
  • 16 See, for example, the assessment by John Taylor, quoted in O’Driscoll, Hyrum Smith, 249–250.
  • 17 Jeffrey S. O’Driscoll, Hyrum Smith: A Life of Integrity (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 2003), 8.
  • 18 Hyrum Smith, Testimony, 1 July 1843, online at josephsmithpapers.org.
  • 19 Book of Mormon Central, “What Does It Mean to Be a Martyr? (Ether 12:37, 39),” KnoWhy 1 (January 1, 2016). Concerning the significance of Joseph and Hyrum testifying of the Book of Mormon in this dire situation, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland remarked,
  • “As one of a thousand elements of my own testimony of the divinity of the Book of Mormon, I submit this as yet one more evidence of its truthfulness. In this their greatest—and last—hour of need, I ask you: would these men blaspheme before God by continuing to fix their lives, their honor, and their own search for eternal salvation on a book (and by implication a church and a ministry) they had fictitiously created out of whole cloth?
  • “Never mind that their wives are about to be widows and their children fatherless. Never mind that their little band of followers will yet be “houseless, friendless and homeless” and that their children will leave footprints of blood across frozen rivers and an untamed prairie floor. Never mind that legions will die and other legions live declaring in the four quarters of this earth that they know the Book of Mormon and the Church which espouses it to be true. Disregard all of that, and tell me whether in this hour of death these two men would enter the presence of their Eternal Judge quoting from and finding solace in a book which, if not the very word of God, would brand them as imposters and charlatans until the end of time? They would not do that! They were willing to die rather than deny the divine origin and the eternal truthfulness of the Book of Mormon.” Jeffrey R. Holland, “Safety for the Soul,” General Conference, October 2009, online at churchofjesuschrist.org.
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