Evidence #371 | September 19, 2022

Joseph Smith Sr.

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Throughout his life, Joseph Smith Sr.—the oldest of the Eight Witnesses—was faithful to his testimony of the Book of Mormon.

Joseph Smith Sr. was the father of eight children, including Joseph Smith Jr. He was also the oldest of the Eight Witnesses of the Book of Mormon who testified that they saw, handled, and hefted the plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated (The Testimony of Eight Witnesses). Born on July 12, 1771, Father Smith was fifty-eight years old when he became one of the witnesses.

According to Richard L. Anderson, “Joseph Smith, Sr., was a practical man who never aspired to public acclaim. He had brief careers in teaching and storekeeping, but he worked with his hands most of his life as a cooper or farmer.”1 Like many American farmers of the time, he struggled to provide for his family but experienced a series of financial reverses during which he moved from Vermont to New Hampshire and finally to Manchester, New York in 1816. Historical evidence compiled by Donald Enders shows that in spite of challenging poverty and the need to work as day-laborers in their community,2 the Smith family was able to develop a successful farm.3

Following the completion of the Book of Mormon’s translation, members of the Whitmer family—including Christian, John, Jacob, and Peter Whitmer Jr., as well as Hiram Page—visited the Smith’s Manchester home. It was at that time, according to Lucy Mack Smith, that the Eight Witnesses of the Book of Mormon, including her husband Joseph Smith Sr., were shown the plates.4

Portrait of Joseph Smith senior. Image via josephsmithpapers.org (courtesy of Church History Meseum, Salt Lake City).

After the Book of Mormon was published in 1830, Father Smith, accompanied by his son Don Carlos, traveled nearly two hundred miles to Stockholm New York. There he shared the Book of Mormon with his father, Asael Smith, and also with his brothers and their families. In the face of vehement opposition from his brother Jesse, Joseph Sr. related the recent experiences of his family and his testimony of the Book of Mormon. As a result, his father Asael and eventually all of his brothers except Jesse accepted the message of the Restoration.5

When Father Smith returned home, he was threatened by malicious neighbors with imprisonment for debt unless he renounced the Book of Mormon.6 This he refused to do. As he related to his wife Lucy,

The men by whom I was taken commenced using every possible argument to induce me to renounce the Book of Mormon, saying, “how much better it would be for you to deny that silly thing, than to be disgraced and imprisoned, when you might not only escape this, but also have the note back, as well as the money which you have paid on it.” To this I made no reply. They still went on in the same manner till we arrived at the jail when they hurried me into this dismal dungeon. I shuddered when I first heard these heavy doors creaking upon their hinges; but then, I thought to myself, I was not the first man who had been imprisoned for the truth’s sake; and when I should meet Paul in the Paradise of God, I could tell him that I too, had been in bonds for the Gospel which he had preached.7

He spent nearly a month in a jail in Canandaigua and was denied food for four days for refusing to renounce his testimony.8 Historian Richard Anderson observes,

A study of the Smith witnesses must stress deeds more than words. Modest and unaffected, these men left few formal statements, but above all they lived consistently with their commitment to Christian principles and modern revelation. Although not parading their printed testimony, they sacrificed for their convictions.9

That being said, a number of historical sources mention public and private affirmations of the Eight Witnesses indicating their willingness to testify and answer questions about their experiences.10 At a Church Conference in Orange, Ohio on October 25, 1831, Joseph Smith Sr. and others Witnesses of the Book of Mormon “with uplifted hands, bore their solemn testimony to the truth of that book.”11

William McLellin was an early convert who joined the Church in 1831 and briefly served as an Apostle but later became estranged from Joseph Smith and the body of the Church. Responding to the inquiry of a critic of the Book of Mormon in 1880, McLellin stated, “When I first joined the Church in 1831, soon I became acquainted with all the Smith family and the Whitmer family, and I heard all their testimonies, which agreed in the main points; and I believed them then, and I believe them yet.”12

The subsequent life and service of Joseph Smith Sr. until his death in 1840 are also consistent with his testimony of the reality of the Book of Mormon plates and the validity of the Restoration. The troubles in Missouri with the imprisonment of his sons Joseph and Hyrum, the forced exodus to Illinois, and the effects of old age all had a debilitating effect on his health. In spite of these challenges, his final years show a life of devotion to the cause of the Restoration. During his years in Kirtland and later in Illinois, Smith continued to serve as Church Patriarch, giving thousands of patriarchal blessings to members of the Church.13 He died on September 14, 1840.

Joseph Smith Sr. license (1830) 


The available historical evidence shows that Joseph Smith Sr.—the oldest of the Eight Witnesses—was true to his testimony until his death. He willingly shared his witness with family and friends and faithfully upheld it, sometimes at great hardship to himself, even when renouncing his testimony would have made his life easier and likely more comfortable.

Larry E. Morris, A Documentary History of the Book of Mormon (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2019), 415–455.

Mark L. McConkie, “Joseph Smith Sr.,” in United By Faith: The Joseph Sr. and Lucy Mack Smith Family, ed. Kyle R. Walker (American Fork, UT: Covenant Communications, 2005), 1–39.

Richard Lloyd Anderson, “Attempts to Redefine the Experiences of the Eight Witnesses,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 14, no. 1 (2005): 18–31, 125–127.

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

BibleDeuteronomy 19:152 Corinthians 13:1Book of MormonThe Testimony of Eight Witnesses2 Nephi 27:12–13Ether 5:2


Deuteronomy 19:15

2 Corinthians 13:1

Book of Mormon

The Testimony of Eight Witnesses

2 Nephi 27:12–13

Ether 5:2

  • 1 Richard Lloyde Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 1981), 141.
  • 2 “Sources document over two dozen kinds of labor the Smith’s performed for hire, including digging and rocking up wells, mowing, coopering, constructing cisterns, hunting and trapping, teaching school, providing domestic service, and making split-wood chairs, brooms and baskets. The Smith’s also harvested, did modest carpentry work, dug for salt, constructed stone walls and fireplaces, flailed grain, cut and sold cordwood, carted, made cider, and ‘witched’ for water. They sold garden produce, made bee-gums, washed clothes, painted oil-cloth coverings, butchered, dug coal, painted chairs, hauled stone, and made maple syrup and sugar.” See Donald L. Enders, “The Joseph Smith, Sr., Family: Farmers of the Genesee,” in Joseph Smith: The Prophet, The Man, ed. Susan Easton Black and Charles D. Tate, Jr. (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1993), 222.
  • 3 Tax records for 1830 for Manchester Township provide property evaluations for 176 farms of 50 or more acres in size. According to Enders, “The average value per acre for those farms was $13. The mean value was $12.85. The Smith farm was appraised at the average value per acre. Seventy-one farms were valued at a higher rate per acre than the Smith farm, 90 were valued below theirs, and 14 were valued at the same level.” Significantly, Enders found that “in comparison to others in the township and neighborhood, the Smiths’ efforts and accomplishments were superior to most. In the township, only 40 percent of the farms were worth more per acre and just 25 percent were larger. In the ‘neighborhood,’ only 29 percent of the farms were worth more and only 26 percent were larger.” Enders, “The Joseph Smith, Sr., Family,” 220–221. This constitutes significant evidence for the industry of Joseph Smith Sr. and his family during their time in the Palmyra-Manchester community.
  • 4 Lavina Fielding Anderson, ed., Lucy’s Book: A Critical Edition of the Lucy Mack Smith’s Family Memoir (Salt Lake City, UT: Signature Books, 2001), 455–456.
  • 5 Anderson, Lucy’s Book, 481–484.
  • 6 According to Lucy’s account, “That same night my husband was taken rather ill, and, continuing unwell the next day, he was unable to take breakfast with me. About ten o’clock I commenced preparing him some milk porridge, but before it was ready for him a Quaker gentleman called to see him, and the following is the substance of the conversation:— Quaker. ‘Friend Smith, I have a note against thee of fourteen dollars, which I have lately bought, and I have come to see if thou hast the money for me.’ Mr. Smith. Why, sir, did you purchase that note? You certainly was in no want of the money?’ Quaker. ‘That is business of my own; I want the money, and must have it.’ Mr. Smith. ‘I can pay you six dollars now,—the rest you will have to wait for, as I cannot get it for you.’ Quaker. ‘No, I will not wait one hour; and if thou dost not pay me immediately, thou shalt go forthwith to jail, unless (running to the fireplace, and making violent gestures with his hands towards the fire) thou wilt burn up those Books of Mormon; but if thou wilt burn them up, then I will forgive thee the whole debt.’ Mr. Smith (decidedly). ‘That I shall not do.’” Anderson, Lucy’s Book, 488–489.
  • 7 Anderson, Lucy’s Book, 496.
  • 8 Anderson, Lucy’s Book, 496.
  • 9 Richard Lloyd Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 1981), 138.
  • 10 “As to [the Book of Mormon] being a Revelation from God, eleven persons besides Smith bore positive testimony of its truth. After getting acquainted with them, I was unable to impeach their testimony, and consequently thought that it was as consistent to give credit to them as to credit the writings of the New Testament, when I had never seen the authors nor the original copy.” John Corrill, A Brief History of the Church of Christ of Latter Day Saints (St. Louis, MO: Printed for the Author, 1839), 11–12.
  • 11 “History of Luke Johnson. [By Himself,]” Latter-day Saints’ Millennial Star 26, no. 53 (December 31, 1864): 855; Donald Q. Cannon and Lyndon W. Cook, eds., Far West Record: Minutes of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1830–1844 (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 1983), 21.
  • 12 William McLellin to J. T. Cobb, Independence, Missouri, August 14, 1880, in Larry C. Porter, “William E. McLellin’s Testimony of the Book of Mormon,” BYU Studies Quarterly 10, no. 4 (Summer 1970): 486.
  • 13 Mark L. McConkie, “Joseph Smith Sr.,” in United by Faith: The Joseph Sr. and Lucy Mack Smith Family, ed. Kyle R. Walker (American Fork, UT: Covenant Communications, 2005), 13–30.
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